Standing in Truth: “The Firm Stance” – 1 John 5

Immediately after teaching last Sunday night, I left for Orlando, and flew in the early hours of Monday morning to Washington, DC and then on to Columbus, Ohio. The meetings I planned to attend were about a half an hour away from the airport, so I needed to rent a car and drive north to the hotel where I was staying for two nights. I rented a full sized car this year, because last year the little compact I had was all over the icy and snowy roadways. I had very little control. This year, with a full sized automobile that was heavier, I felt somewhat safer, but driving on snow and ice is never fun! The problem with sliding down an icy road is you don’t have any real control – and that can be dangerous. It isn’t only the lack of traction that is troublesome, it is the fact that many other people have no traction, but drive like they don’t know they have little control.

As it is in driving, so it is in life. Many people are moving through life and seem to think they have more control than they truly do. They slide through life without making much real controlled contact. They live “fast and loose” with little saving, and even less care for maintenance of the things they own. They don’t seem to notice they aren’t in control of their appetites, much less their outcomes. The problem with sliding through life is that we cannot give God control of a life that is held by the forces of others. We may theologically agree that we must yield our lives to Jesus, but we can only surrender to Him what is in our grasp in the first place!

Did you ever go ice skating? I went years ago, because someone told me it would be a romantic thing to do on a date. Here is what I can tell you: It wasn’t romantic the way I did it! If you only skated occasionally or weren’t particularly good at it, you will know exactly what I mean when I say that two uncontrolled novices on the ice holding hands will only end up as larger “ice sweepers.” Each person straps on their skates and moves out across the ice wobbling and gesticulating wildly with no real control. When they hold hands, neither has much control, but they feel more at ease with someone else helping them to remain upright. Inevitably one falls and pulls the other down with them. There is nothing romantic about lying on cold, hard ice.

Here is my point: for a believer, surrender to Jesus is our call. Sadly, by the time many hear that truth, they have largely lost control of life, and find it difficult to give God what is His in their life. For some, they have surrendered so much of their physical ability by poor life habits, they cannot be as fully used in surrender of their body. For others, they have so ingrained a lack of emotional control and burst out in anger, etc. they can scarcely surrender their heart while allowing their emotions to run wild. The Apostle John wrote to the early church an essential truth that we must learn, and after a time of following Jesus, we must live. He wrote 1 John 5 to say, in essence, two things…

Key Principle: Jesus wants two things from us – true love and firm trust.

The principle tips off the fact that the last chapter of this letter can be easily broken into two parts:

• The first part we can entitle: “Five ways we show true love in following the Savior” found in the first twelve verses of the chapter (5:1-12).

• The second part we may call: “Seven ways we show firm trust” and they are found in the balance of the verses (5:13-21).

Fortunately, we have a practical guide on “how to” love and take a firm stance, rather than just a command to do so. I frustrate when I am instructed to do something but I don’t know how to accomplish it. Take a moment and look at the first half of the chapter for the way a believer shows love to his Master and Savior…

Five Ways We Show True Love

First, John shared that we truly love God when we show real love to God’s Son. He wrote:

1 John 5:1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.

In short, any parent can explain it this way: If you want to show you love me, show love to my children.

Some of you know that our family has struggled for three years now with the diagnosis and treatment of our youngest daughter of an illness that has ravaged her immune system. The pharmaceutical products that helped to keep the symptoms at bay are toxic, and are causing great troubles for my daughter as she tries to gain control of something that seems bigger than she is. Along the way, she and her husband moved into a little house in town to raise our first grandson, Malachi. As we were preparing the home for their little family, Tom came to my aid and designed and built a screen room on the side of their home. It was one of the profound times my family felt truly loved here, as Tom suffered in the hot summer sun to build something purely out of care for Sara and her family. I will never forget it. I will never be able to repay it. I saw his love for my family, and his care for me as his pastor and friend. Honestly, if you want to show love to me, show it to my children and grandchildren. I know you all understand because I know so many of you!

According to John, the impulse I felt was like one God Himself feels toward those who acknowledge His Son. Look at the words of verse one. John insisted that a believer trusts that Jesus was Messiah (the Greek form of that word is “Christ”) and that His birth was directly from God. The Gospel according to Luke could not be more deliberate about the means of conception of the child in Mary’s womb – God entered her and placed the baby inside her. This was not a human act; it was a Divine move, unique to Jesus.

In addition to acknowledging that Jesus truly WAS the child of the Father in Heaven (and not of some Roman soldier or cheap Nazareth affair), John made the point that loving the Heavenly Father can be directly measured by love for His Son. God showed His love in sending His Son. A believer shows His love in submitting to Jesus AS His Son. There is no option that allows one to claim they love God and follow Jesus, but do not believe that Jesus was uniquely placed in the womb by their Father in Heaven. Modern attempts to distance from the “Virgin Birth” of Jesus are, according to 1 John 5:1, swipes at loving the Father.

In 2010, Albert Mohler wrote an article “Must We Believe the Virgin Birth?” in response to an article in The New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. Mohler wrote:

In one of his columns for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof once pointed to belief in the Virgin Birth as evidence that conservative Christians are “less intellectual.” Are we saddled with an untenable doctrine? Is belief in the Virgin Birth really necessary? Kristof is absolutely aghast that so many Americans believe in the Virgin Birth. “The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time,” he explains, and the percentage of Americans who believe in the Virgin Birth “actually rose five points in the latest poll.” Yikes! Is this evidence of secular backsliding?

In another article from 2015, this one from World Net Daily, author Bob Unruh mused about the reports of a “problem” with the doctrine of the Virgin Birth belief. He wrote:

More people might come to church if Christians would drop “fairy tale” tidbits like the Nativity story. That’s the belief of a minister in Cairns Church in Milngavie, Scotland. … Rev. Andrew Frater wants Christians to “move on from the ‘fanciful, fairy tale’ Nativity story and ‘disentangle the truth from the tinsel.’” The report said Frater believes telling the traditional story of the birth of Jesus “had the effect of keeping people with doubts about their faith away from the church, as the Nativity was too easily dismissed.” He wrote in the newspaper: “This year I’m promising myself to be more theologically honest. No more going home with fanciful, fairy tale assumptions destined to make Good News seem incredible.” He said Christians should “look for the symbolism in the Nativity.” Focus on “missiles and housing and unemployment instead,” he advised. “The virgin birth,” he said, “leaves people hung up…Too much serious stuff is going on in the world for folk in my position to even risk the possibility of sounding remote, irrelevant or both,” he said. “For me, it’s time to travel beyond the literalists’ landscape; time to acknowledge that Luke and Matthew were not newspaper reporters. Although facts were for them significant, they were also secondary.”

What is amazing is how little regard doubting preachers have given the words of 1 John 5:1. John argued that loving God was seen by accepting that God sent Jesus in a miraculous way. Jesus was BORN OF GOD, not in a “birth is always such a miracle” sense, but in a unique way, signifying acceptance and thereby love of the Father.

A second way we properly show love as God’s children is we follow God’s rules. John continued:

1 John 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.

Loving God’s Son isn’t the only way we show we love to God Himself. In fact, one way to show we love God is to show true love to His children. How do we do that? Are we to offer gifts to each child of God we meet? In a way, “Yes” is the answer to that question. John remarked that when we walk in obedience to God’s Word, we HELP other believers. That sounds strange at first, but if you think about it – it really isn’t.

Some that hear this lesson served in the military. Sadly, some of them served in trenches on active battle fronts. If you talk to soldiers in those places, they will tell you that when it is really tough, when things get desperate, they are not fighting for their country, for their family or for lofty ideals of democracy – they are fighting for their brothers in the hole next to them. Christians should consider this mentality carefully. Instead of obeying God’s Word to advance our reputation of obedience, or even to show ourselves steadfast – part of the reason we do it is for the other believers around us. Let me say it this way: When you walk with God in obedience, you become a reliable brother in the foxhole. We can count on you, and don’t have to worry about you properly reflecting the values and training of a believer. Never give the grenades to the novice in the foxhole if you want to have a band of surviving brothers!

A third way we show that we gratefully love God is when walk with an understanding that in light of what He has given us, He doesn’t ask too much of us. Note verse three:

1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.

Focus on the last part of that verse for a moment. John wrote: “His commandments are not burdensome.” Do you agree with that statement? Does God ask too much when He asks me to willingly give my life choices to Him? Shouldn’t I get to pick my college, occupation, mate, local church, mission in life and main hobbies? Why wouldn’t God think that is “asking a bit much” when He demands I surrender all to Him?

Part of the answer can be found in understanding what God did for us. God gave His Son to be born, mishandled and brutally murdered in horrid fashion – that we might understand His love. Jesus gave His life to the mission of redemption, and gave His body to brutal and vulgar men to crush. The cost of our salvation was great if we take into account the sufferings of Messiah for us. At the same time, those same costs are more than one thousand times greater when we consider WHO JESUS IS, as the One Who gave Himself. Colossians 1 argued that Jesus is the Creator, the unifying glue and the ultimately Holder of all things – and yet HE DIED for us! It isn’t just about what Jesus did – it is equally about Who Jesus is!

If you were swept into a dangerous current, and I pulled my body out onto a limb and reached down into the water to grab your hand and you were saved – you would probably be grateful. If I dove in to rescue you, imperiling myself and saved you – you would probably be honored. If my son jumped into the water and grabbed you to save you – but lost his own life – you would be deeply indebted. If my son were the prince of the whole realm and he gave his life for you – you would be humbled, and no doubt become a model servant of the King. Jesus died for you – but He is the King above all Kings, and the very agent of Creation.

Because God did so much for you at such a high cost to Himself, are His commands to follow Him burdensome? Because He has designed human history and given you a role to play in the “story of God” is your part too hard?

Let me ask you candidly: Based on all that Jesus did for you, are you living like what He is asking of you has become simply too much to expect?

There is a fourth way to faithfully love God. We must steadfastly follow what He has proclaimed and unapologetically take our stand in a lost world.

We live in a lost world that is not at peace with God. When we follow God, there will be a struggle, simply because we are not in step with the world when we follow Christ. John reminded:

1 John 5:4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

Can you see it? The terms of our faith are terms of conflict with the world that eventually overcomes them. Evil doesn’t win. Godlessness won’t prevail. When you came to Christ you came to the side of a conflict which will end in the victory of the Creator. John continued:

1 John 5:5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood.

John made the argument that belief in Jesus as God’s Son meant believing He came in the flesh, and died after physical suffering. He entered in water and left in blood. He wasn’t a moral story – He was a physical Savior. We stopped mid-verse. Let’s continue in verse six:

1 John 5:6b …It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this: He has testified concerning His Son.

The Spirit of God through the Word of God and the testimony of the people of God has made clear that we do not follow after cleverly devised myths – but we proclaim the truth. Jesus came in the flesh. Jesus came as the Eternal Son of the Living God. Jesus was God in human skin, the Word made flesh. He was the expressed image of His Father, one with Him. The church must proclaim that truth. Skeptics will scoff at the notion – and that should have no bearing on whether we cling to the message.

Dear ones, our message is not our own. We are not to make it more palatable. We do not act as PR spokesmen for God. He isn’t running for office. Our job is to proclaim with clarity the truths He shared in His Word. It is not to make the world believe – it is to lovingly, graciously but pointedly tell the truth as He shared it. We love Him when we stop worrying about His popularity and pay more attention to our clarity.

A fifth way to honestly love God is to take Him seriously in our own hearts. We must not simply defend His Word before the world, but must take to heart all that He has commanded us to do and become in His Word.

Our walk with God cannot and must not be a show. It is to be personal, real and deep. John wrote:

1 John 5:10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made [designated] Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this – that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

We have a simple message: Know Christ and find life. The converse truth is a devastating one: Reject Christ and you will face permanent exile from God in death. That is what the Bible teaches. That is what we hold dear in our hearts. That is what defines the family of God for us.

In the end, loving God is about being faithful to Him in our hearts, representing Him faithfully with our mouths, and showing His goodness with our hands. Jesus wants people who choose to love Him, and thereby show love to His Father.

Seven Ways We Show Firm Trust

That isn’t all Jesus wants. The rest of the passage made plain He has a second desire for those who follow Him. We are to trust Him because He has revealed the truth – as only He can. Firm trust sounds like the bullet points of belief! Here are seven statements we can know that ground us firmly.

First John said we know that following Jesus has given us the promise of eternal life. He wrote:

1 John 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Consider the fact that John was writing during times of sweeping persecution, when standing for Christ may have meant hanging by the neck or bowing before the axe of execution. Do you see why “eternal life” was an essential thing to consider in the face of trouble?

Pastor Don Baggett wrote a few years ago:

My little grandson is just beginning to walk. For a little while, we would see him standing in the floor all by himself, but then when he realized that he was standing alone, he would just sit down. He could’ve most likely walked at that time, but he lacked confidence. Now, we expect him to quickly gain confidence, and when he does, his crawling days will be history. He will not keep crawling, because walking is a lot better than crawling. … We want to see him properly maturing at every age level, because we believe, as he does that, his life will be more fulfilling. We want him to have confidence in his abilities, so that he can get the most out of them. I want you to consider how important it is for you, as a Christian, to have confidence before the Lord. It is only as we have confidence, that we will take bold steps of faith. It is only through our confidence in the promise of His word, that we will be able to display confidence before Him, as we live out our life. I think it is safe to say that a Christian who lacks this confidence has not understood who Christ is in him and who he is in Christ.

Secondly, John said we know our Savior listens to us right now when we call to Him. It is a wonderful truth (especially when trouble strikes!) He said it this way:

1 John 5:14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

John made clear: Jesus listens to us. He loves to hear our voice. We don’t pray repetitions of rote to earless stone. We serve a Savior Who has bent to hear our heart’s cry.

Third, John told us we know life here is a battle, but we can ask Him to empower us to help others in the family.

1 John 5:16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

We need to remember that we were not promised a life without struggle. In our family we will encounter those who are failing to heed God’s warnings. Some will get sick and experience pain. We can offer advice; but we can do much more. We can intercede for them and pray. When we do, we have confidence that God can act through us for them.

Fourth, John reminded us that we know those who follow God follow what He said, and that makes us able to remain strong before a lost world. John wrote:

1 John 5:18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.

Don’t get lost in this verse. Remember how John defined “sin” in this letter? When we studied a few lessons ago, we encountered 1 John 3:4:

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.

He defined the term “sin” as he was using it in his argument. The term is powerfully loaded and has many dimensions in the Bible, but John is focused on one: how those who don’t know God make decisions. His claim is this: One who does not know Jesus can be identified best by one character trait – They make up their own rules. They cobble together morality and ethics, not based on the dictates of the Creator, but made up “on the fly.” What is wrong today may be right tomorrow and required the next day. They don’t have a fixed moral compass. They live a life of the disconnected orphan – and they are all around us.

They don’t wake up in the morning set to do evil. They aren’t all really bad and sinister workers of mayhem. The issue is simple: they don’t know God, and they don’t invest in doing what God says. They don’t understand life in the family, and the willingness of those of us who are part of God’s family to do what the Father tells us to do. What excites us and settles us looks like slavery to them. The problem is, they want the benefits of what we have. They want peace. They crave stability. John continued…

1 John 3:5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.

John backed up to make the observation that Jesus came to pull His followers out of a life of making up their own rules. He is the standard. As the Word incarnate, He fleshed out all that God wanted in a man. He offered us an example and an escape hatch from living apart from God. It is only the one who leaves the path plowed by the world, and begins to follow the sinless Savior who will find the patterns that please God. John added:

1 John 3:6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.

He isn’t claiming that people who follow Jesus live with righteous perfection. His point is that one who walks daily and intimately with Jesus doesn’t make up his own rules of what is right or moral, but rather follows a path that pleases God by abiding (or intentionally inviting moment by moment close life participation) in Jesus. The one who claims to follow Jesus but has no care for the way Jesus taught us to live is not an authentic follower, regardless of their claim.

Fifth, we know we don’t belong here. The world is still dominated by the wicked one until the end comes. He wrote:

1 John 5:19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

The lost state of the world is no indicator of the power of God. This is His story, and evil will reign until He says it is done.

Sixth, we know that life here is fleeting, and Jesus has opened the door to a life that doesn’t end. He wrote:

1 John 5:20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

We are instructed to be content and confident in Jesus through His promises as the Scripture revealed them.

• You may recall in Philippians 4:11 where the Apostle Paul remarked he learned to be content “in whatever circumstance” he found himself. He learned this, the verse clearly says. Therefore, contentment is a lesson to be learned. We can learn to experience what David did when he wrote: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Contentment is learned when we are more concerned with God’s glory than our wants. Can we really feed our senses all week and our Savior on Sunday? No! We will not be content if we try.

• Paul also wrote to a younger servant of Jesus in 1 Timothy 6:6 these words: “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” By this we can discern that contentment is an incredible asset in life.

• Paul went on to describe in 1 Timothy 6:8 says, “Having food and clothing, we shall be content.” With those words, Paul made clear that contentment is a choice we make.

• In order to assist us in that choice, Peter reminded us in 2 Peter 1:4: God “has given us exceedingly great and precious promises.” Perhaps focus on these is the great ticket to finding true contentment, and living out true confidence. We must take hold of the promises He has given us to gain confidence, and in that we will learn contentment.

Our confidence about life is directly linked to our unmoved trust in the word of God. When we become supremely confident that God will, in fact, meet all our needs “according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19) we will learn to be content. Jesus has conquered death and promised we will as well. He has promised life, relationship, joy and peace. We can have them when we take Him seriously.

Finally, we know that we can easily forget what we know and live ruled by our desires.

Idolatry is living in a state where we choose to derive our chief joy in someone or something other than the God Who has made all the promises that keep us firm in following Him. John warned as he closed:

1 John 5:21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

Honestly, idols sneak into your heart. You start by interest in something, and you find yourself trusting them more than you trust God. St. Augustine was remembered as saying:

Idolatry is worshiping anything that ought to be used, or using the One that ought to be worshiped.” (Note: We can’t be certain the saying was his, but it has been attributed widely to him).

Author Dan Allender wrote the book The Wounded Heart and offered this definition:

Idolatry is placing our longings for what only god can provide in the hands of a creature instead of the Creator. When I live for my work or my wife, I have made them my false god.”

It seems that people install a ‘god’ in their own minds that meets the needs they self-define. They prostrate themselves to worship that god, but in reality, they worship themselves – their senses, their wants.

John’s closing instruction to those who read his Epistle was this: Stay on guard from placing yourself at the mercy of your wants and desires. That isn’t what Jesus wants for us or from us…

Jesus wants two things from us – true love and firm trust.

Not long ago, a sad item ran in a newspapers picked up from the sub-Asian region and broadcast by the wire services around the world. Apparently a man spotted that his dwelling was on fire. He saw that his family had made it to the street safely, but he wasn’t content to stand and watch as the village tried to put out the fire. He ran back into his burning dwelling to get both his valuables and an ivory idol trusted by his family for generations. It was the headline that stuck in my mind: “Man dies trying to save his god from fire.”

Stop and consider something for a moment… If The Jerusalem Post had posted a report two millennia ago, it could easily have read: “God dies to save man from fire.” That wouldn’t have been a story; it would have been a report. It is what He did… and He did it for US. He gave Himself for us.

Standing in Truth: “Identity Check” – 1 John 4

We live in a world where, for many people, deception has become a normal tool of daily life. Companies make promises about products their developers know they cannot deliver. Ordinary people present a life of extraordinary happiness on Instagram that few of them actually have. In fact, if you want a fascinating rendering of how far online deception has gone, you need to read an article by Curtis Wallen from July 2014 in The Atlantic Magazine called: “How to Invent a Person Online.” It opens this way:

On April 8, 2013, I received an envelope in the mail from a nonexistent return address in Toledo, Ohio. Inside was a blank thank-you note and an Ohio state driver’s license. The ID belonged to a 28-year-old man called Aaron Brown—6 feet tall and 160 pounds with a round face, scruffy brown hair, a thin beard, and green eyes. His most defining feature, however, was that he didn’t exist. I know that because I created him.

The author then described how he created an identity for someone who was never born and will never die – but they appear as one who is very much alive. They can travel, shop, protest and in some places even vote as a citizen – but they aren’t real.

It isn’t really a secret that people fake identities. Parents constantly warn their children to be careful when engaging someone on the web, for fear they are not the person they claim to be. You don’t have to look far to understand the scope of the problem today:

Take a moment and check “Google” under “fake identification” and you will find the Florida state constitution section 322.212 (5) (a) stating: “It is unlawful for any person to use a false or fictitious name in any application for a driver license or identification card or knowingly to make a false identification”…

Yet, immediately below that link is another link on the list called:

“GreatFakeID: Scannable Fake ID Cards where you can “Buy scannable fake id cards with UV holograms from GreatFakeID. Best IDs with all security features replicated and made from the best updated id templates.”

Yes, we live in a world that is hard to fathom. The criminals don’t even seem to work as hard as they used to in order to violate the law. At the same time, this isn’t a new phenomenon. For those who study the history of faking identification papers and the forging craft, the name “Adolfo Kaminsky” is almost always included among the best known historical forgers. Listen to a bit of his story and you will know why.

Born in 1925, Kaminsky worked during WWII as a member of the French Resistance, specializing in the creation of high quality forgeries of identity documents. He is credited with saving more than 14,000 Jews. In Israel’s modern history, he is also noted to have assisted scores of Jewish immigration fleeing to the British Mandate for Palestine. After the Nazi invasion of France in 1940, Kaminsky’s family was moved and his mother was killed. Still a teen, Adolfo Kaminsky entered the Resistance. He was charged to watch a railway station and sent messages to London about trains. By 1943, Adolfo worked in an underground laboratory in Paris forging identity papers for Jews and people sought by the Nazis. The Kaminsky Lab became the main producer of false IDs for northern France and Benelux. He was quoted as saying: “Keep awake. The longer possible. Struggle against sleep. The calculation is easy. In one hour, I make 30 false papers. If I sleep one hour, 30 people will die.” After the Liberation of Paris in August 1944, he joined the French Army and marched to Germany. He was engaged by the French military secret services, where his fake IDs were given to some spies sent to detect the location of concentration camps while the war was still ongoing. Kaminsky was awarded the Médaille de la Résistance for his live-saving work.

What made Kaminsky famous was his work with chemicals to wipe old ID cards and repurpose them. The Nazi’s struggled to keep new identification markers valid with such excellent forgers working behind the scenes.

It is important to note that forgery, fake identification and falsely misleading people concerning your identity is actually an ancient problem. Biblically speaking, it was a long-standing problem for the church, as Jesus followers were often confused by fakes who infiltrated their ranks and were accepted by naïve and hopeful Christians. Even in the first century, false followers abounded. People gave them food and shelter. People embraced them and cared for their needs. Some people were bound to take advantage. As a result, John took the time to pen out some of the basic markers that help us identify a believer. Essentially, 1 John 4 was given to teach a key truth…

Key Principle: There are four primary characteristics that identify a true Jesus follower. These were instructed to help us discern authenticity.

Look closely at the opening verse where John set out the basic issue he wanted to address.

The Problem (4:1)

He couldn’t be clearer as to the difficulty they faced. He wrote:

1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

It may not have been comfortable for them, but the people were called upon to test the spirits behind the words and actions of the teachers who traveled about, claiming they offered truth from God. Since some of the Word was not yet written and most of it was not yet disseminated widely, the verbal prophets were very much a part of the “ground game” of the church in the early years. Some were truly sent by God, but others were seeded into the mix by the enemy of Christ. As awkward as it sounded in practice, John was forced to instruct them to test for authenticity. If the text stopped there, the obvious problem would have been: “How?”

John offered traits that could be scrutinized under examination. They were markers of authenticity, and they were to be carefully observed BEFORE the person was accepted as a teacher for God.

At the same time, these markers can also be good self-inspection tools to help us add to our faith the marks that will make our commitment to follow Jesus obvious. John offered four marks, so let’s take the time to look at each as he presented them.

Our Certainty of the Truth (4:2-6)

The opening verses that revealed the marks of a Jesus follower are thoroughly immersed in the subject of truth. He noted, there are essential truths that must be affirmed to be considered an authentic follower of the faith. Look at some of them in verses two and three:

First, the teachers needed to demonstrate they knew Jesus as He was presented by the Apostles. He wrote:

1 John 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

It appears clear enough: God’s Spirit is at work through those who acknowledge that Jesus the Messiah has come to the earth, that He came from the Father in Heaven, and that He came as a man. In the time of John, the fake followers could be identified by teachings outside of those claims. Regardless of how well they put words together, they were fakes if they didn’t believe and wholeheartedly teach that Jesus came in the flesh, from the Father, as the Savior.

Second, though fakes may have abounded (then, as now) the believers were to remember the power of God in the Gospel and not be discouraged. He reminded them:

1 John 4:4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

How discouraging it can be to see the many false varieties of our message that float around. There is the Jesus plus some strange conspiracy theory version of the faith. There is the Jesus came, but not as a real man version. Variations are literally all over the internet. Some of them came because Bible teaching has been sloppy and haphazard. Some came because people who didn’t know the Savior wanted to be part of the church anyway. Some came because the enemy placed bad seed among the good. In any case, believers need to remember that God isn’t losing, and His power isn’t really under a challenge. He is patient, not impotent.

Third, the confidence believers have for the truth of our message won’t be reflected in the world at large. We should be wary of one who easily has the ear of the world – for it is hard to speak the truth and keep it. He wrote:

1 John 4:5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Look at the emphatic way John notes that we can KNOW the truth and reckon the errors. He made clear that some teachers will light up the world’s audience, because they speak the language of the world as one of them. He also clarified that our message will not necessarily find a popular hearing, but that has nothing to do with its veracity. The world outside of Jesus doesn’t naturally warm to our message, because it lives in rebellion to the God Who created them. Any presentation that demands surrender to Him will be rebuffed by a world that doesn’t want to follow God.

Tim Patrick wrote: “There used to be a television game show entitled “Truth or Consequences.” Most people who are old enough to remember will associate that show with Bob Barker. He was the game show host for approximately twenty years. The contestants on the show were given the responsibility of determining the truth about people, places, events or things by answering questions. At the conclusion of each show they would reveal the truth about the topic of discussion. You and I have been given the task of discovering truth or facing the consequences. In I John, John teaches us the importance of knowing the truth. “My dear friends don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world. Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God.”

In the end, a primary mark of the believer is their commitment to the truths presented to us in the Gospel. Jesus came from God as our Savior, and put on human skin as a man. There will be resistance to that message. There will be popular innovation to that message. A mark of the follower of Jesus is allegiance to the truths passed to us in the Word, and a steadiness to continue to proclaim those truths regardless of their popularity at any particular time.

Our Care for One Another (4:7-13, 20-21)

John offered a second marker of identification for the purpose of authentication. We aren’t just a truth organization; we are a people organization. He wrote:

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Note how clearly he presented the truth that love is a marker of authenticity. John both called for love between brothers and sisters in the family of God, and made the point that such a love becomes a marker that separates those of us who know Him from those who do not. That love is expressed in giving, just as our Savior did. Someone wrote a few words that showed how distinctive love is in our world:

There once was a builder who didn’t overcharge for his work.
Once there was a physician who healed the sick for free.
Once there was a man who prepared lunch and fed people at no charge.
And you know what they did to Him?
They crucified Him!

Don’t get cynical – that isn’t the point. We must recognize that our love follows a pattern, and is commanded for a purpose. God expressed love with purpose to us, and we should be purposed in our love as well. John wrote:

1 John 4:9 By this the love of God was manifested in us; that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Read very carefully verses nine and ten and you will immediately discover how the love of God was made clear. God sent His precious Son to us. It is repeated twice in the two verses. God’s love is found in God’s gift. This wasn’t sentimental feeling; the Son was given with a mission. He satisfied the debt for our sins, and God offers new life through Him.

The term “manifested” simply means “made plain to see.” God’s love was made clear in God giving what was needed, though it was dear to Him and cost Him greatly. True love is not some delightful feeling or dream of togetherness – it is acting to meet and need because there is a need, expecting nothing in return. God doesn’t love us because He will benefit from our response. He loves us because He chooses to do so.

Our love is supposed to be “plain to see” like Gods love.

There’s a story of a young American engineer who was sent to Ireland by his company. It was a two-year assignment. He had accepted it because it would enable him to earn enough to marry his long-time girlfriend. She had a job near her home in Tennessee. Their plan was to put their money together and put a down payment on a house when he returned. They wrote often, but as the lonely weeks went by, the girlfriend began expressing doubts about his being true, exposed as he was to the beautiful Irish lasses. The young engineer wrote back. He declared with some passion that he was paying absolutely no attention to the local girls. “I admit,” he wrote, “that sometimes I’m tempted. But I fight it. I’m keeping myself for you.” In the next mail, the engineer received a package. It contained a note from his girl and a harmonica. “I’m sending this to you,” she wrote, “so you can learn to play it and have something to take your mind off those girls.” The engineer replied, “Thanks for the harmonica. I’m practicing on it every night and thinking of you.” At the end of the two years, the engineer was transferred back to company headquarters. He took the first plane to Tennessee to be reunited with his girl. Her whole family was with her, but as he rushed forward to embrace her, she held up a restraining hand and said sternly “Just hold on there a minute, Billy Bob. Before any serious kissin’ and huggin’ gets started here, let me hear you play that harmonica!” (Bits & Pieces, October 15, 1992, pp. 17-18. Contriibuted by: SermonCentral PRO)

The love we show is supposed to follow the pattern God set in sending Jesus. It should be a giving love, a practiced love. John wrote:

1 John 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

• If God’s love required giving that which was precious – so must our love do so.
• If God’s love cared for our needs – so must our love do for others.
• If God’s love was made plain in action – so we must act to show love.

When God’s Word challenges us to “love one another” it isn’t a call to like on another and spend a few minutes in a weekly meeting catching up with a hug. Love is about sizing up the need of another and acting deliberately to meet that need – even if it comes at a cost to you. That is the love we are called to have. That is the love that makes clear we are authentically part of the family. There is an old Jewish legend that speaks to this:

In the time before time, when the world was young, two brothers shared a field and a mill, each night dividing the grain they had ground together during the day. One brother lived alone; the other had a wife and a large family. Now, the single brother thought to himself one day, “It isn’t fair that we divide the grain evenly. I have only myself to care for, but my brother has children to feed.” So each night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary to see that he was never without. But the married brother said to himself one day, “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly, because I have children to provide for me in my old age, but my brother has no one. What will he do when he’s old?” So every night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary. As a result, both of them always found their supply of grain mysteriously replenished each morning. Then one night they met each other halfway between their two houses. They suddenly realized what had been happening and embraced each other in love. The legend is that God witnessed their meeting and proclaimed, “This is a holy place—a place of love—and here it is that my temple shall be built.” So it was. The First Temple is said to have been constructed on that very site.

Time and again, John echoed the words “love one another” to the followers of Jesus. It is as if when called upon, John would answer “Agapomen Allelus” or “Practice God’s love to one another.” This is the call to the believer. This is a grand mark of identity. What do you say about this love?

• When some drink wine while others abstain–what do you say? (Let us love one another)
• When some young leaders press forward with new ideas while others want to preserve our traditions–what do you say? (Let us love one another)
• When a marriage is in trouble and people are taking sides–what do you say? (Let us love one another).
• When people come with expectations but no support: what should we say? (Let us love one another).
• When someone hurts me and I want to hurt them back–what must I say? (Let us love one another).

Don’t forget, even when you feel you have no love of your own to give them – we have God’s love to offer them.

We got it for free, and we can pass it to them for the same price. When you share God’s love, you offer a portrait of God to another who travels in a world where His face isn’t always easy to see. John said:

1 John 4:12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.

Author David Ward explained the verses this way:

Think of Christmas lights wired in series. First the electricity comes into the wire, then to the bulb and through its filament. Finally it goes back into the line, on to the next bulb, and so on through the entire chain of lights. As it flows out not only into each of those lights but out of each of those lights, the entire circuit is completed, and the string of lights is bright. If there’s a light that’s loose, or a filament that’s broken, then it receives the electricity but doesn’t pass it on to others. In a sense, God has wired us like these Christmas lights. He has wired us to receive His love, and He has also wired us to pass it along to others. We have God’s love to give.

Can you see how practicing God’s brand of love becomes a grand identifier of the believer? It is so practical, it may seem to elementary. John continued a little later in the chapter…

1 John 4:20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

The simple but profound truth is that as much as a commitment to the truth identifies the people of God – so loving acts in the Savior’s name do as well.

Our Confession of the Savior (4:14-15)

The third marker John pointed out was that of the “confession” of His people. Earlier John made the point that truth marked the life of an authentic follower. Here he noted the “confession” or the WORDS of the believer are an identifier. We don’t follow vague ideals and sentimental notions – we have specific expressed beliefs. John pressed believers: Listen to our words and you will hear a constant confession of our belief:

First, we openly testify that God truly sent His Son to save us:

1 John 4:14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

God entered human history to save us in His sending of Jesus – that is a deliberate theme of our teaching that cannot be missed. If we offer any other basis for an intimate relationship with God but the completed work of Jesus at Calvary – we are not authentically Christian. If we promise an eternity with God based on anything by Jesus’ payment for our sin – we are not speaking truth. The first part of our confession is the God sent His Son to save us.

Second, we repeatedly state without apology that Jesus is no other than God’s Son. John reminded:

1 John 4:15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

John seems transfixed on proclaiming the identity and work of Jesus – because that is the enduring mark of the believer. We believe man is born estranged from God and without the ability to earn a way to God without the work of Jesus. Our belief isn’t some mere theological exercise. John makes clear there is an objective set of truths that were a part of the true confession. Look back over history and it will become very clear that not everyone who holds a Bible and quotes from it, speaks with its intent.

In November 1978 US Representative Leo J. Ryan of California visited the People’s Temple (a California-based cult) in Guyana. His group went to investigate reports that some of the people there were being held against their will. The congressman and his party were ambushed and killed. A few days later, at Jonestown, Guyana, soldiers were horrified to find hundreds of bodies of cult members who had been shot or committed suicide by drinking cyanide based Kool-Aid. Rev. Jones, 47, lay near the altar with a bullet wound in his head. The death count was 780. Here is a brief report of what happened in those final moments: “As Jones talked over the loudspeaker on the beauty of death and the certainty that everyone would meet again, several hundred cult members gathered around the pavillion. They were surrounded by armed guards, and a vat of Kool-aid mixed with cyanide was brought out. Most cult members drank it willingly—others were forced to. They started with the babies. At least 80 infants and children were fed the deadly potion, and then the adults took it. Everything was calm for a few minutes and then, as the cyanide-induced convulsions began, it got all out of the order. Children were screaming and there was mass confusion. Shortly afterward, everyone was dead.” (Illustration 1552 in Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, by Paul Lee Tan)

We have a faith that can be expressed in these simple terms. God made man without sin. Man rebelled, separating himself from God. After a time, God sent His Son to model life with God, and then pay for our sin on the Cross at Calvary. We have received that payment, declaring it as our basis for a personal relationship with God. All these ideas come from the Bible, and we believe, with apology, they are all true. That is our confession.

Our Confidence in the Future (4:16-19)

John offered one more marker…

• With absolute allegiance to the truths passed by our fathers to us in the Word;
• With authentic and costly love to our brothers and sisters in Christ;
• With constant confession of the person and work of Jesus on our lips – believers have yet one more identifying mark.

That identification marker is OPTIMISM. We are incredibly confident about the future. John put it this way:

1 John 4:16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us.

Christianity teaches both coming judgment and a positive outlook for the future! That seems counterintuitive, but it isn’t. Bathed in the love of God, and living out the truth of God with the people of God, we do not fear meeting God. In fact, most of us can’t wait to be with Him!

John wanted you to know how to spot the fakes and how to recognize the real followers of Jesus…

There are four characteristics that identify a true Jesus follower. These were instructed to help us discern authenticity.

Jack Kelley, foreign affairs editor for USA Today, tells this story: We were in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, during a famine. It was so bad we walked into one village and everybody was dead. There is a stench of death that gets into your hair, gets onto your skin, gets onto your clothes, and you can’t wash it off. We saw this little boy. You could tell he had worms and was malnourished; his stomach was protruding. When a child is extremely malnourished, the hair turns a reddish color, and the skin becomes crinkled as though he’s 100 years old. Our photographer had a grapefruit, which he gave to the boy. The boy was so weak he didn’t have the strength to hold the grapefruit, so we cut it in half and gave it to him. He picked it up, looked at us as if to say thanks, and began to walk back towards his village. We walked behind him in a way that he couldn’t see us. When he entered the village, there on the ground was a little boy who I thought was dead. His eyes were completely glazed over. It turned out that this was his younger brother. The older brother kneeled down next to his younger brother, bit off a piece of the grapefruit, and chewed it. Then he opened up his younger brother’s mouth, put the grapefruit in, and worked his brother’s jaw up and down. We learned that the older brother had been doing that for the younger brother for two weeks. A couple days later the older brother died of malnutrition, and the younger brother lived. I remember driving home that night thinking what Jesus meant when he said, “There is no greater love than to lay down our life for somebody else.”

Standing in Truth: “The Mark” – 1 John 3

I have some marks on my body that remind me of moments in my life. On the back of my left thumb there is a scar I got from slicing off the skin from the back of the knuckle with a glass bottle that broke in Jerusalem. On my left hand, my ring finger cannot straighten all the way out, because Aaron Michaud threw a football to me and it broke the finger. I smile, because I caught the pass – and that was the important thing! I have a dent on my face where Mikey from down the street stabbed me in the eye with a pencil. My left wrist has a long scar from the operation to make that hand work again after it was paralyzed by a skiing accident. Of course, there is also the long scar, the metal bar and the thirteen screws in my leg that abruptly ended my kickball career at the church.

If you are like me, your body is a map of ghosts of activities past.

Things that we dedicate time and energy to, have a way of leaving a mark on us. That makes me wonder: “What marks have my commitment to Jesus made on me? What truly marks a believer?” 1 John 3 offers an answer. John essentially taught…

Key Principle: Where one makes his own rules, sin reigns. Where one follows God’s Word, Jesus reigns.

In other words, the mark of Jesus can be seen in my desire to follow His commands, and stop deciding my future and my choices on my own. That choice will make any follower stand out. It will also bring a reaction from the world around the believer…

Imagine you were born into a wonderful family with two incredible parents. Tragically, they were killed in an auto accident when you were a child, and you were taken to an orphanage. For a few years, you became a part of the lives and rhythm of the place. One morning, you met the people who were adopting you. You went home with them and became a part of your new family. A few months later you came back to the orphanage and the children you used to play with didn’t accept you anymore. That isn’t a myth…it is your story if you are a Jesus follower.

God created us for Himself. He walked in the Garden with man until rebellion separated us and death came. We became children of the fallen world under a rebel prince. One day our Creator sent a Rescuer Who paid the price for our sin. Sometime later, that One came to bring us into the family of God.

John’s argument, as he opened the third chapter of 1 John is this: God adopted us. His choice of us changed who we are… but it made us different from the rest of the children – and they reject us because of it. He wrote it this way:

1 John 3:1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Observe closely how John put the argument together.

First, God made us into His children, and that was a powerful statement of love by God.

Second, as God’s children, the world no longer identifies us as “one of them.”

Third, as His children, our will is being shaped to be progressively more like the Son.

Fourth, His shaping includes working at purity in our lives. When I follow Him, rebellion gives way to obedience. The old way slips into the past as we focus on living out what God has said.

In that scenario, John began setting up a family contrast that led to a values conflict. The contrast was made plain in how we make decisions about what is right and what is wrong. Life decisions look different for one inside the family. John began by defining the basis of decisions by those who do not have a walk with God – those still in rebellion in the world without. He wrote:

1 John 3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.

Don’t misunderstand what he wrote. He defined the term “sin” as he was using it in his argument. The term is powerfully loaded and has many dimensions in the Bible, but John is focused on one: how those who don’t know God make decisions. His claim is this: One who does not know Jesus can be identified best by one character trait – He makes up his own rules. They cobble together morality and ethics, not based on the dictates of the Creator, but made up “on the fly.” What is wrong today may be right tomorrow and required the next day. They don’t have a fixed moral compass. They live a life of the disconnected orphan – and they are all around us.

They don’t wake up in the morning set to do evil. They aren’t all really bad and sinister workers of mayhem. The issue is simple: they don’t know God, and they don’t invest in doing what God says. They don’t understand life in the family, and the willingness of those of us who are part of God’s family to do what the Father tells us to do. What excites us and settles us looks like slavery to them. The problem is, they want the benefits of what we have. They want peace. They crave stability. They need consistent love as God defined it. To get it, they put together their own rules, their own standards and even their own “truth.” John continued…

1 John 3:5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.

John backed up to make the observation that Jesus came to pull His followers out of a life of making up their own rules. He was the standard. As the Word incarnate, He fleshed out all that God wanted in a man. He offered us an example and an escape hatch from living apart from God. It is only the one who leaves the path plowed by the world, and begins to follow the sinless Savior who will find the patterns that please God. There is no way to live as God would have a man live without a Savior. It is, therefore, fitting and proper for a Jesus follower to live differently. John added:

1 John 3:6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.

He isn’t claiming that people who follow Jesus live with righteous perfection. His point is that one who walks daily and intimately with Jesus doesn’t make up his own rules of what is right or moral, but rather follows a path that pleases God by abiding (or intentionally inviting moment by moment close life participation) in Jesus. The one who claims to follow Jesus but has no care for the way Jesus taught us to live is not an authentic follower, regardless of their claim.

The Christian life is a life that can be seen, not just preached. It is a life of practice rooted in an intimate relationship with its Founder, the Risen Savior. It is knowing, loving and obeying the Savior out of love and thankfulness, not of compulsion. John argued that people who make up their own moral and ethical standards that are not in harmony with God’s Word display openly they don’t yet truly know how to walk with Him. In the short run, that could be simply a result of learning His way. In the long run, it will show outwardly the fact they lack a relationship inwardly. John’s reason for making the claim that one who is truly a Christian lives by the standard of Jesus became much clearer as he continued…

1 John 3:7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

It seems John’s greatest concern was that Jesus followers grow in discernment, so that we don’t become confused by those who make claims as Jesus followers, but then draw people away in serving according to a morality Jesus has no part in. If you break down what John claimed in verses seven to ten, that point is clear.

• In verse seven, John raised the alarm to be watchful because some desire to confuse in order to deceive. The litmus test that proves the integrity of their faith within is the fact that they cling to practices that are like what Jesus did and taught us to do.

• In verse eight, John unpacked this truth: If the standard of the person is based on the system of the world and not of Christ, they belong to the world and serve the world’s prince – not the Savior. Because they serve the prince of rebels, they appear in opposition to the way of Jesus. Our Savior stands in direct opposition to a world that desires to make a different right, and different moral construct, a different way to find peace and contentment.

• In verse nine, John reiterated: People who know God intimately follow His standard. They wouldn’t dream of making up their own way and thinking God is happy with that. They have within the Spirit of God, and conviction would critique their poor choice. They have the example of Jesus, and they would sense quickly their way was the wrong way. They have become a part of the family of God, and they would not, they could not be comfortable acting like a child without a home and family.

• John laid out the fact of the clear marker that delineates the difference between a true follower of Jesus and one who claims to be but is not. He noted the one who follows Jesus follows the standards and model of Jesus. He loves the others who follow Jesus and sees them as family. The one who has no regard for the follower of Jesus has no true surrender to Jesus inside.

What may read like a high resounding theology is actually a very simple statement. People can fake a commitment to Jesus, but if you watch them closely, the cloth of their life is thin. Claims are a veneer surface, but life has the tendency to quickly wear through our verbal assertions. When we call for people to follow us, we open our lives to inspection for the kinds of works that Jesus would do. We invite people to evaluate the source of our moral premises and principles. In that investigation, when we show ourselves to follow the pattern of the world and not the Word – we quickly expose the reality that we are not truly following Jesus.

John didn’t want believers to follow people that made claims that were separated by the actions of the one making them.

Today people are queasy about being “judging people” because they have been poorly taught the way of Jesus. They will say things like: “We shouldn’t judge others – that is for God to do.” On the surface that sounds like a call to give others the benefit of a doubt. Yet, what it most often means in contemporary society is that we have no place in discerning whether someone’s claim is real. That simply isn’t true. John couldn’t call on people to match life with word in order to resist being deceived if that was wholly inappropriate.

Add to that, we couldn’t make simple judgments about who our children should spend time with if we weren’t allowed to make such judgments. We are being trained to believe that all forms of discriminatory activity are intrinsically wrong. That is false. We have to discern between one who is what they appear to be and one who is playing a role in order to deceive us. We cannot and will not be obedient to God if we renege on that responsibility. John pulled his readers back to the sign of “brotherly love” when he wrote:

1 John 3:11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.

John exposed what may have been one of the first overt signs of having an inner surrender to God – caring for the people God placed around us. That love wasn’t just a surface politeness with a raging jealousy beneath. Cain’s heart toward God was wrong, and it showed openly when he willingly spilled the blood of his brother. Love is seeking the best for our brother, not seeking their harm out of our brokenness. In his epistle, James claimed that we lash out at others because something is wrong within. Here, John made plain that our treatment of our brother in authentic love for them is a telltale sign that we truly know God and are walking with God. We can share love because the inner conflict has been stilled.

Earlier in this lesson I made the claim the world wants the benefits of a walk with God even if they do not have one. When we carefully consider the issue of “having love of others” that is clearly the case. People who do not know God want people to love them. We are hardwired that way. People are deeply relational unless supremely damaged and emotionally disrupted. They want to have rich and enduring relationships. Yet, without the way the Lord designed relationships, that is very problematic.

Let’s be clear: Follow the world’s design for relationships and you will not find satisfaction and lasting love in them.

Hook up and you will find quick pleasure, but you won’t make a life partner. Sleep around and you won’t find someone who is deeply invested in caring for your needs for life. Hang out in the world’s version of a mating dance and you won’t discover someone who knows a great deal about building a solid moral home. Remember what John wrote? He claimed: “People who know God walk like Jesus did. When they follow the pattern of Jesus, they build relationships with people based on sharing God’s love with them. That is what Jesus did. They give of themselves to help another even when the other has little or nothing to give back. That was the Savior’s example. In short, they understand love. The world has neatly defined self-interest, self-pleasure and self-seeking as love. It isn’t, and it won’t produce lasting satisfaction like real love will. People who club their way to “finding real love” will find others who don’t understand what God meant when He invented the word. That is a room of needy takers, but love is about giving.

There is a stark contrast between the selfish sentimentalism that passes as love in our world and how God told us to act toward one another. As a result, when we teach and model truth, it exposes the false premise of the world around us. It is bound to get a reaction. John continued:

1 John 3:13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.

Though it may not be immediately clear, there are really two thoughts here.

First, we must understand the world often reacts to the truth badly, because they have been taught to cling to a lie. At the foundation of the world, the prince of deception has confused and deceived with not one, but a series of contradictory stories that fluster and frustrate those who search for the truth. He has literally overwhelmed the truth with alternative explanations of origin, purpose and destiny, keeping truth buried under a pile of garbage.

Is there a god? Maybe, but now there are literally dozens of them to sort through to try to find the One Who is true. Were all things intentionally created? Perhaps, but it may be that there was a big bang or a lightning bolt to primordial ooze, or aliens that planted the human colony. Maybe we don’t even live in a real world. We could all be hooked to some big umbilical cord and be dreaming. The notions of origin and reality go on and on and on. Is there more than the material world? “We don’t know,” they say. “We cannot know,” they teach. Yet we are trained to live as though this is what counts.

When you have been thoroughly educated in the ways of the world, you will see life as material and earthly – and think of God as you would fairies and unicorns – something fun to think about but highly unlikely to the educated mind. As the world is coaxed away from any allegiance to the message of the Creator found in the Bible, they will see “equality” as all eliminating distinctions and “freedom” as cutting all boundaries. Yet, the militancy that is found in their version of equality will quickly show itself, and the abuses against the weak will become swiftly apparent in their fallen view of freedom. I don’t want to be abstract. Here is the truth: when the world teaches that love can be found drifting from one sexual encounter to another, killing of the inconvenient unborn becomes a necessity. When they rethink equality, they are willing for all deviant behavior to be allowed – but they are not willing to accept any plea against that behavior as anything but HATE SPEECH.

In our brave new world, people keep committing sin that has plagued man since the Garden of Eden – but now they can legally redefine it as right and good. The new definition for morality is whatever makes people happy. The problem is the foundations of society aren’t built to withstand that kind of thinking. Our system was built with a Biblical world view. Mortgages are based on the idea that people should feel wrong about not paying what they owe. Elections are based on the idea that one who offers a compelling vision of the future that convinces the electorate should have the opportunity to try to make their vision reality. Child rearing was based on the notion that a biological pair would come together in a life-long commitment to each other and build a safe space for children to be carefully patterned.

When you tear into the foundations, the building begins to crack.

Welcome to a society where killing a whale is inherently evil, but killing the unborn is your right. Sitting in a restaurant smoking a cigarette is immoral because it affects those around you, but redefining marriage and teaching our children in our schools that their Bible is woefully outdated and their parents are just misinformed is the unmitigated right of the state. My point is this: People immersed in the fallen world don’t react well to truth. It isn’t clear to them, and we don’t appear to be what we truly are at all.

Beside the fact that people who are immersed in the fallen viewpoint of the world don’t generally respond to moral truth in a positive way, there is a second meaning to verse thirteen. Believers will be prone to forget how much God’s way contrasts with the world, and how utterly uncomfortable we make people who have no commitment to God. That is why John made the abrupt statement that we would eventually find ourselves on the back end of hatred.

There was a time most believers would have said John’s term “hate” was too strong. I don’t think that time is now.

We have been living with a growing hatred and it is just below the surface – ready to pounce when it can find the power to do so. It is the reason we have recently worked to circle the wagons with believers and anyone with which we can find help in to stem the political and intellectual tide.

• As Jesus followers, we have to remember we hear the media with different ears than others. When our Biblical beliefs, foundational to our world view, are mocked because we don’t believe that a man with male parts can simultaneously be a woman because he feels like it today – we don’t feel like we are stretching the truth.

• When we demand that a baby be protected from those who would thrust an instrument of death into their skull weeks before they are born, we don’t think we are being hateful. We think we are defending human life. We aren’t cutting off freedom, we are making sure that life is not demeaned.

• When officials enlist our schools to force curricula concerning Freud’s made up gender ideology, we don’t believe Christian parents are being hateful to teach their own children the Scriptures. We believe we are preserving the parent’s right to pass their beliefs to their children. We don’t believe that diversity and tolerance mean we can allow them to rewrite morality daily with no care for the people and  institutions it may destroy.

We don’t believe we have moved the goal posts or redefined things. We aren’t creating new letters and phobias with each new semester. It isn’t us. Most of us really are not activists. We believe in our future – but feel responsible for what was passed to us.

• When bakers and photographers can’t choose to opt out of involvement in something that violates their faith – we don’t want to see their businesses destroyed in the name of tolerance.

• When nuns are forced to provide funding for birth control, we don’t think our country becomes more free. We feel like our government is attacking us, and ignoring Biblical values.

We get tired of being called names because we still believe what the Bible teaches – but John cautioned we should understand why it happens. Ironically, we can point out how many of those beliefs set forth in the Scriptures are what gave us the freedoms and foundations of the very society that are under attack. Honestly, hate is looking less and less like a word too strong for how the world feels if one looks at media, the world of education or in the realm of entertainment.

John continued…

1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.

If a telltale sign of real life in Messiah is obedience to the Word, it is also in the commitment to loving brothers and sisters and clinging to one another. John elaborated:

1 John 3:15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 We know love by this; that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

John asked a very fair question. How can we claim we love our brothers if we don’t practically care for them. How can we say we love the weak if we offer no defense for them? How can we claim we love the needy if we do nothing to help them attain what they need?

In fact, John waved off the notion that one could claim love at all – unless it was surrounded by evidence in deeds. He wrote:

1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

Further, he offered encouragement that if we show love and care for others – it will help us INSIDE. We will have an assurance within that we are truly following and actively walking with God. We are following our Master, and we can KNOW it. He wrote:

1 John 3:19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him 20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.

It seems counter-intuitive, but John argued that when we give away our heart, it grows stronger. When we care about others, we gain confidence in our faith. When we give away what He has given us, we open ourselves to receive yet MORE from Him. In the end, John offered a simple summary of the believer. On the one hand it is about the One in Whom we have placed our trust. On the other hand, it is about the brother for whom we are willing to readily give our life away:

1 John 3:23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

John couldn’t be clearer. There are those who reckon the commands of Christ something that blesses us when we follow them. There are others who believe they need to figure out life on their own, and make their own standards of right and wrong behavior. One is invested in the word, the other keeps their ear to the ground for the ever-changing moral code of the world. Here is his point:

Where one makes his own rules, sin reigns. Where one follows God’s Word, Jesus reigns.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a novel written by Mitch Albom published in 2003. The story chronicled the life, the death and the afterlife of an amusement park maintenance man named Eddie. He died in a heroic attempt to save a little girl from an accident in an amusement park on a ride that was about to fall. Eddie died and went to heaven, where he encountered five people who had a significant impact upon him during his life.

I read the book a decade ago, and it has stuck in my mind because of some of the writer’s keen insights about life. It wasn’t written by a Jesus follower, and it isn’t a Christian book – but it had some excellent insights into life.

On Eddie’s birthday, one of the amusement park rides malfunctions and Eddie realizes a little girl will be crushed by the ride. He threw himself toward the girl, intending to pull her to safety, but was killed…He awoke to find himself uninjured, young and much more energetic. He met a man he had known from his childhood and, Eddie finds out that he is dead, has gone to Heaven and has embarked on a journey through five levels of discovery. He met a man who died when Eddie and his brother threw a baseball that landed in the middle of the road, and caused the man to have a heart attack and pull over the car and collapse. From this, Eddie learned his first lesson which is that there are no random events in life and all individuals and experiences are connected in some way.

The second person that Eddie met was a former captain from the army. He reminded Eddie of their time together as prisoners of war in a forced labor camp. Their group escaped after a long captivity and set the camp on fire during their escape. As the fire blazed, Eddie saw a shadow running from one of the huts he lit, although he never identified the figure. The Captain confessed he shot Eddie in the leg to prevent Eddie from chasing the shadow into the fire, which would have certainly caused Eddie’s death. This saved Eddie’s life but left him with the severe limp that Eddie repeatedly blamed as his main obstacle for missing out on a life outside of the maintenance of the park. He also learned about the sacrifice of the Captain as they spoke. The man died when he deliberately stepped on a land mine that would have destroyed the truck taking Eddie and his company to safety. Eddie learned his second lesson about the importance of people’s willingness to make sacrifices for others, big and small.

There are three more scenes in the book (I won’t ruin it for you). What stuck in my mind was the Captain. He knew his duty was to his men – because that was drilled into him in his training. He also knew that duty had become something that was more than a job. It was something that changed his heart. He loved the men. He wanted to show his obedience to the commands he was given – but that was only a part of his life. He loved doing it. It filled his life. The great quote that captured the idea was this: “Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.” ― Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

Standing in Truth: “The Problem of Defection” – 1 John 2:15-29

miserable-manHe is a middle-aged man, and he is miserable. Several years ago, he attended church. His life was in a crisis, and his marriage was falling apart. After a church service one Sunday, he came forward in an altar call, and said he wanted to surrender his heart to Jesus Christ. Over the next several months, he became deeply involved in his church, said he was daily reading his Bible, and spoke of growing in his walk. The problems began showing up a few months later. Slowly, the old habits crept back in. A certain coolness toward spiritual things seemed to settle into his speech, and he didn’t appear to be as interested in growing in his walk with God. I am sure I know only a small part of what truly happened, because he didn’t share it. I noticed that he missed one service after another. His involvement diminished in the next few months to virtually zero. Six months after that, the whole Jesus thing seemed like nothing more than a phase. Was that salvation? Did he really know Jesus? If he did, why didn’t he stay with his new life?

Though the details may vary, several of us know people who fit this general description. They seem to start off with Christ, but they do not stay with Him. Some even overtly defect from a public profession of faith in Jesus and are willing to tell you they are not followers of Jesus anymore. Though for a time they claimed Jesus as their Savior, they fully disavow that commitment today. Something pulled their heart away. It may be a new relationship. It may be a change in their job. It may be a deep disappointment that coming to Jesus didn’t simply take their problems away in some area of life. In the end, they move into the arms of one of the four gods of our age – fortune, fame, power or pleasure – and serve another god that claims to offer greater fulfillment to them. In time, they find that other path empty. This is the problem for which John took time to remind believers in his epistle…

Key Principle: Many promise true satisfaction. In the end, the voice we follow will be either Jesus or a false promise.

That is the essence of the second half of the second chapter of 1 John. The aged Apostle, a local church pastor, noticed some began with Christ, but didn’t appear to continue in the faith. He remarked:

1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that [d]it would be shown that they all are not of us.

The purpose of the narrative was to help the early followers of Jesus through the pain and uncertainty of dealing with defection and to help them grasp what happened. If you have watched it in one you love, your heart will resonate with his words. He made clear that it is possible to understand defection, but only when we recognize some basic facts about walking with Jesus. He began…

1. First, we must grasp the fact that there is an unavoidable choice (2:15):

Coming to Jesus requires us to make a choice to change the direction from which we choose to draw our fulfillment. Look closely at verse fifteen.

I John 2:15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

One who has encountered God and the message of the Gospel must choose a direction in order to fill up our hearts and be satisfied with life. If we place the fulfillment of our needs impatiently in the “now,” we will surely be tempted to drift from the direction of God’s will at any time we don’t feel like God is meeting that need to our satisfaction. It is a choice to follow Jesus – but it is not the only choice we can make! Essentially John argued: “Do not love the world’s way nor the temporary things the world offers, that love runs contrary to love for God’s way” (2:15).

The issue isn’t whether we live in the world or even enjoy the world – that was intended even for the believer. God gave you taste buds and intends you to find delight in what he provides for your mouth. Godliness isn’t glum. You don’t have to move to a bare-roomed monastery, eat bread and drink water, and think only of the veil of tears in this life while you await heaven’s bliss. Honestly, some of us are likely so imbalanced gaining our delight in this world that a week at a monastery wouldn’t hurt – but that is not the way God called you to live out your days. The point of “not loving the world” is whether we find our hope, our significance and our peace in the world. It is about our primary LOVE, our primary place of desire and hope.

We will love God and His promises or we will reject those promises for more immediate satisfactions – but we will not do both. One will pull us from the other.

I want to warn you openly: Don’t overlook the incredibly strong pull of the now. It creates a strong mirage of coming satisfaction that remains just over the horizon as we continue to approach it. Here are some familiar tell-tale signs it is at work. You will hear the beckoning:

• Your next job will make you happy – put all that you are and have into your work.
• Your next child will heal your ailing love relationship – give everything you can to your family.
• Your new home will make you truly happy – shop for each decoration with the knowledge that this purchase was the answer to life’s problems.

None of these things, as good as they are, will truly answer your deepest needs. Seek them first, and you will end the race in disappointment. If you learn anything from life, you should learn: Few things have lasting significance.

It is sad but true that one day your house will look to your grandchildren as outdated as grandma’s house looked to you as you visited when you grew up. Your DVR will look like grandma’s plastic furniture covers of yesteryear! What you remember as NEW isn’t new for very long. That new car will age, get dents and be traded. Your house will wear out. Be warned: a new roof “cometh” in your future.

I am simply making one argument: Don’t trust temporary things to bring permanent satisfaction.

Skinny ties will get replaced by wide ties, only to be replaced by the next NEW big thing… the old skinny tie. Beards come; beards go. Shoes become flat, but next season they become big. Pants get tighter, then they get looser. We are now experiencing the rise of the “comb over” and bigger-haired men… Life is filled with cycles and unfathomable products of our creative culture: the earth shoe, the pet rock, the chia pet. Each has its “Andy Warhol fifteen minutes of fame,” and then gets traded to the discount rack, the “As seen on TV” rack, the yard sale, or at long last the “flea market.” What delights a child today will cause an adult tomorrow to stand there puzzling over its function.

Every believer should mature. As they grow, they should ask this question: “What does “loving the world” look like?”

• Loving the world is placing my hope in politicians to save a nation of lost souls. That is love of the world’s system to answer man’s need instead of loving Jesus enough to present him to your neighbor.

• Loving the world is placing our trust in people, experiences and products to get lasting satisfaction with life.

The fact is: We simply must choose the Father first. Jesus told us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” – that is to seek first God’s purposes and live according to God’s standards – and everything else we need would be added to us.

Like Abraham, we must be willing to leave the city of our birth, purchase camping equipment and move out on the journey to find the city of God.

Accommodation of sin and deliberate dabbling in evil is simply not an option for the mature man or woman of God who is serious about finding fulfillment. We cannot straddle the fence and expect to grow toward God’s best for us. There is a choice required – that is the point of verse fifteen. Keep reading…

2. Second, we must fully understand there are consequences that follow our choice (2:16-18):

The point of choices is where they lead us. John wrote”

1 John 2:16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.

There are a number of problems with building our life around the things of now for lasting fulfillment. The first problem should be obvious, but is often obscured: The options on the menu of this life won’t last! Hungers set on the flesh, greed waves crashing in the fallen heart and the enduring arrogance of the rebel will one day be put aside. Life here isn’t permanent, so fulfillment cannot be lasting.

The satisfaction the things of this world will promise is nothing more than a temporary quenching of a momentary thirst.

We often attain the immediate quenching of thirst by destroying an opportunity to have a permanent solution. The world offers a temporary satiation of physical desires, temporary satisfaction of our wants, and things that make us feel more important. These are not God’s way for us, but a lost world’s way of coping (2:16). These things won’t last, but the one who follows God’s way will find everlasting fulfillment (2:17).

Beyond the temporary nature, there is a second problem we must remember. There is less time to choose than we may believe. Our choice is urgent! The battle for our heart must end so we can join the team of those who will reach others.

We cannot win in the raging battle if you will not choose your side!

John wrote (my paraphrase): “Young ones, we are late in the opportunity to reach men and women, for the rising tide of opposition is swelling toward the coming of the Antichrist that will bring in the end battle (2:18).”

There is simply no way to avoid the fact that our choice for what fulfills us shows up in our daily choices – and that places us on one side of a conflict. We must ever remember the fact that the hour is late. We can neither delay, nor can we trust that choosing this world will somehow work out in the end.

The world’s system is increasingly showing itself to be anti-God, anti-Bible. One look at the trends and you will see rabid anti-creation words across the press – as if it is easier to explain the complexity of the cosmos by a purposeless accident. Our world is against the most basic definitions of morality – but desperate for the fruits that come with it. They cannot define a family, but cannot discern why children are angrily marching the streets, unable to define their own identity, sexuality or purpose. These youth are a sculpted product of modern social engineering. They are confused, conflicted and constantly tossed about by one outrageous cause after another. Listen to their words: you will struggle to even make sense of their understanding of things…

John continued…

3. Third, we must recognize that some will appear to fall away, because they were here for something other than walking with Him (2:19)!

Leaning back into the subject of defectors he wrote what we mentioned a few moments ago:

1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.

When John reminded that some were a “part” for a season, but aren’t really “of us”, he made clear that people come to the fellowship for many reasons that are not about Jesus. Over the years I have encountered many people who used the church to grow their business. All across the Bible belt, people co-opted the church as a healthy social gathering environment – a well-mannered corral for people of finer breeding in the noticeable and polite social circle. Some joined the church to find a small pond in which they can show themselves a big fish. Others were simply trying to find friends and didn’t know where else to look.

Honestly, hang out in church circles and you will discover scores who entered without a true regard for the cost of following Christ, or true longing to know Him intimately at all.

Another aspect of people abandoning Christ is this: seasons of life change. We don’t remain the same. Some found friends for a time when they needed them – but they never truly found Jesus. Some may have found Jesus as Savior, but never thought that choice bound them to follow Him.

They were saved from sin – but unwilling to become a “Christian” in the sense of following Jesus.

I want to humbly offer a third observation concerning people who fall away. I don’t mean to sound uncharitable, but I have noticed more recently that many people are not good listeners and even fewer are clear thinkers. What they think they heard from the Bible or from God bears little or no resemblance to what God actually said in His Word. They heard only parts of the message. They didn’t connect the dots between what they heard and how they lived. They didn’t evaluate whether what the preacher said this week can be connected to what he said last week. Let’s face it: Poor teaching abounds.

The longer I live, the more I recognize the Bible is a deck reshuffled by many an ambitious dealer, who has little interest if reflecting all of its counsel.

I recall years ago a discussion with a man in a church fellowship hall that argued vehemently against tattoos on the basis of his best study of Leviticus. These insights he shared while eating a ham sandwich. In his mind, it all made perfect sense, since he hated tattoos but loved ham. His theology perfectly accommodated his biases.

The truth is that fickle followers aren’t real followers. Fair weather friends aren’t true friends. Sunshine soldiers evaporate when the cold and wet night comes – and the rising tide of an anti-Christ spirit is giving way soon to the person who will openly mock God himself. John continued…

4. Fourth, we needn’t allow another’s defection to rock our confidence and commitment (2:20-21).

The truth cannot be found by popular vote, but it can be known. He wrote:

1 John 2:20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth.

The truth is that if you know God, His Spirit has marked your life (2:20). John didn’t write because they were unaware of that, but to affirm their relationship to God (20:21)!”

People DO begin with Jesus and His people and then walk away. I know some.

Interestingly, I often run into people who ask me if their friend who expressed faith in Jesus but later left the faith in total rejection was perhaps truly saved in spite of their current declaration of total disdain for the Gospel. I know many have nuanced versions of this question, and one answer doesn’t cover all the possibilities – but I want to say something that I don’t believe gets emphasized strongly enough: People don’t truly seek Christ to fulfill their deepest longing, find Him and then later find something better. That isn’t possible, because there isn’t anything better – that is a fact made plain by the most cursory study of the Word.

If they came and left, the Bible concludes they came for a different reason than Christ.

They may not truly understand: Jesus isn’t one of the options for eternal life. He isn’t one of the paths to true happiness. He is not a buffet menu placed beside other equal options. If the Bible is true, He created life at the behest of His Heavenly Father. He IS life. In Him is fulfillment.

Everything else you heard won’t get you what you want 100,000,000 years from now. Nothing else will work. The hole in your soul won’t be permanently filled by others who are falsely offering life, love, hope and lasting fulfillment.

Imagine you entered a hospital room and saw your loved one hooked in every direction to wires and tubes. The doctor smiled at you and said: “This is great! We can keep him alive virtually forever on all these machines. His heart is beating. His liver is functioning. His lungs are being mechanically filled with air. Perhaps you would look puzzled and ask: “Can he speak?” The doctor shakes his head and says: “Oh no. He will never be conscious. He will never eat, laugh or communicate. He will lie there, in need of tremendous attention by nurses. At least he is alive!” Like me, you may conclude that isn’t living.

Jesus offers life as the Author of life. Others will elegantly dress their offer for temporary satisfaction, but cannot offer eternal life. They will draw us to moments of happiness, but cannot deliver in the end. If someone falls off a cliff, you don’t have to worry about it happening to you if you don’t stand on the edge. You have no need to shake. Truth isn’t evaluated by its popularity. Remember: in this history of mankind, most people were on the wrong side of most issues.

Since truth isn’t determined by consensus, we must grasp truth apart from the crowd. Honestly, a fact is a fact even when no one believes it.

Truth is something that must be discovered – not elected.

John made clear…

5. Fifth, we will need to choose carefully the voice we will follow. We must make sure it echoes the Word of God as it was taught from the beginning (2:22-24).

1 John 2:22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.

Anyone who is trying to deny that Jesus is Messiah is empowered by God’s enemy, and not by God, regardless of what he looks like or how educated he sounds (2:22)! One who denies that Jesus is the Messiah is wrong, and has no walk with God – no matter what he promises or claims. This truth shows whether they have a walk (2:23) – are they pointing people to the Person and work of Jesus for eternal life?

It is time, John wrote, for the people of God to stand by the truth of the relationship they received in Jesus (2:24). Then John finished his words with direction…

6. Sixth, mature believers grow to understand there are responsibilities we have in relating to the struggles of the younger follower of Jesus.

We need to offer some insight to them:

1 John 2:25 This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.

Young believers need to be ever reminded to stick to the essence of our message. It is easy to get caught up in agendas of churches and more mature believers who have been swept into the current of political and social change agendas. The essential promise that Jesus made was eternal life (2:25).

We need to warn them (2:26):

1 John 2:26 These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.

Young believers will not have the discernment that mature followers should have regarding what to avoid. Children need to be warned about strangers, and young on the faith need to be so warned about deceivers. I needed to write because some are trying to deceive you and pull you away (2:26).

The fact is the world has many false prophets who WANT to deceive you. It also contains many who just don’t know what is true, but that doesn’t stop them from becoming famous.

If recent events have taught us anything, it is that our prognosticators and pundits are often famous, but “undressed prophets.” They looked at the data, but got the answers wrong. Economists seem to be guessing about the economy. Weather men promise disaster from a storm that turns a different way. Pollsters can’t add up which direction things are headed. We live in a day when the professionals aren’t inspiring much confidence in their fool-proof methodologies.

Some lie to suit their audience. Others simply make conclusions without embracing the whole of the evidence. Believers have the truth and need to walk in it.

We need to offer encouragement (2:27):

1 John 2:27 As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.

Young believers do not have to be convinced of the truth of Jesus’ changes in their lives if they are real, but they do have to be carefully trained to stay with the growing body that God has placed them within. We must encourage them, watch them, and train them – for the enemy has plans to discourage them!

John wrote: “I call upon you to remain in the truth you have learned – stay in the truth (2:27)!”

We should encourage younger followers of Jesus that with their salvation came the Spirit, and with the Spirit came Divine empowering to walk consistently with Him. It is not beyond our reach when you invite the Spirit to lead us daily. It is not too demanding and other-worldly. God has already poured onto your life the oil of His empowering; and doused you with His powerful inner change-agent.

When we present compromise and sinfulness as the normal behavior, we mimic the world. When we remind them of the power the world neither has nor understands – we speak reminders that echo the Apostle John’s encouragement. Let us offer younger believers this charge: You CAN walk with God. All things pertaining to life and godliness have been amply supplied. There is nothing more you need get to be able to change. The entire venture now rests on your honest willingness to let God work in you.

• You must become wise to block access of the world’s siren calls to your fallen nature – the old man within.

• You must brutally starve that leftover of your past life.

• You dare not dabble in the enemy’s lies, nor the world’s temptations.

These are all choices – but they have been accomplished by believers in the past. This contest isn’t new.

Don’t get sucked into the lie that those who remained married for life were somehow extraordinary or found someone who was nearly sinless to live with. They chose to honor God and keep their vows to one another and to Him. They chose to fight to stay together despite their fallen natures and sinful selves. In the same way that ordinary men stormed the beaches of Normandy in our nation’s past to free the world from the grip of evil, so ordinary men and women gave themselves to the cause of Jesus, and followed Him relentlessly in our Christian past. The Spirit boosts our endurance, sensitizes our understanding and challenges us to do our best when no one but God truly knows.

We must offer constant reminders to them (2:28-29):

…Of eternal rewards in the face of all the temporal promises (2:28):

1 John 2:28 Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.

It is clear that Jesus saves us from sin, but there is also the issue of regret and reward when our performance is judged (1 Cor. 3; 2 Cor. 5). Young followers, keep walking with Jesus so that when we stand before Him we will not be embarrassed at our behaviors, but excited to be with Him (2:28).

…Of the “marks” (2:29):

1 John 2:29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.

When Jesus is changing someone, there are marks that make those changes evident to people who observe closely. It is not that we become sinless, but a definite change marks us! If Jesus’ way is right, then those who practice that way are part of Him and us (2:29).

Many promise us true satisfaction. In the end, the voice we follow will be either Jesus or a false promise.

Years ago, A. T. Stewart challenged his congregation (my paraphrase):

Imagine you are on vacation in the mountains. You decided to walk a mountain trail at the beautiful state park. It’s a hot August afternoon and you finish the hike and are both very tired and incredibly thirsty. At the end of the trail you notice a huge refrigerator with a glass door (like in the convenience stores) filled with bottles of Crystal Springs water. The sign declares: “Free water—help yourself!” Thirsty, you dash over to the cooler and help yourself to some cool refreshing water.

As you are satisfying your thirst, your eyes catch a glimpse of another hiker. You notice the man coming to the end of the trail and he looks even more tired and thirsty than you were. To your surprise, he stopped at the end of the trail. He and knelt down and drank from a small fish pond at the end of the trail. You passed this fish pond and noticed the gold fish swimming in it—the Lilly pads, a few frogs and a turtle. Like most unattended fish ponds it was filled with algae, the water was green, stagnant, murky. You couldn’t help but ask him: “Why are you drinking out of the fish pond? Don’t you see that cooler full of free Crystal Springs water? You will get sick drinking that polluted water. There is no telling what’s in that water.” He replied: “I saw the cooler, but this fish pond was closer and much more convenient. It was easier to get and I was very thirsty.

That is where you live. That is what is happening all around you. May I simply ask you: “Are you drinking out of the fish pond today?” If you are, that water is about to bring you a deep dissatisfaction. Get ready.

Standing in Truth: “Things People Say” – 1 John 1:1-2:14

antiquitiesI was speaking with an antiquities dealer in the Near East not long ago, and he said something that made an impression on me. He told me: “In my shop there are real antiquities, and there are fakes.” I asked him, “Why do you have fakes?” He replied with a smile: “Because some of them look better than the real thing!” That never occurred to me. Some people are going to purchase an item and display the purchase. It is less important that it is authentic, than that it looks good on the shelf. Sometimes fakes look better…

Though I love painted works of the Masters of art, I am not skilled enough to discern a real master from a well-made forgery. What I do know is this: There are REAL pieces and there are FAKES that are displayed as real.

Business Insider Magazine reported: “It seems like bigger and stranger art scams are revealed each year, from the man who sold more than 200 fake Alberto Giacometti statues out of his car in Germany to the Los Angeles art dealer who commissioned a fake Picasso and sold it for $2 million… During WWII, Dutch artist Han van Meegeren didn’t start out as a forger. He simply wanted to be recognized as a legitimate artist. In fact, he wanted the title so badly that he created his own works replicating Johannes Vermeer’s style and allowed them to be sold to unknowing buyers who thought them to be genuine. For a while he got away with selling the detailed forgeries for astounding prices, reaching the equivalent of $60 million for six fake Vermeer’s sold on the Dutch market, according to The Telegraph. But when one of van Meegeren’s paintings ended up in the collection of high-ranking Nazi officer Hermann Göring (an art expert), van Meegeren was arrested for treason for refusing to name the original owner of the masterpiece. The government of the Netherlands was among the other entities duped by van Meegeren.”

It is astounding to me that paintings that were forged could get past the eyes of one expert after another. It happened again just a few years ago, when actor Steve Martin bought an expensive forged piece of art and reportedly lost millions! If the forgers are that good at what they do, why not just create some new breath-taking pieces for us to share?

As shocking as that is, our lesson today from the first letter of the Apostle John opened with a story of “forgery” that we need to pay close attention to. He reminded…

Key Principle: There are people who fake faith, but there are also markers that indicate whether someone is truly part of the body of Christ.

A believer should have certain marks on their life that show they are following God, and being led by Jesus Christ. John felt it was necessary to help believers of the first century know the difference between real and fake faith. We want to explore the identification points (like “finger prints”) he left behind, and apply them to our time, and particularly to our lives!

Before we begin the lesson, we should take a moment and remind ourselves of a few facts we have received from historical record about the Disciple turned Apostle named John – to reacquaint ourselves with the writer:

1. He was the brother of James and the son of Zebedee from Capernaum of Galilee.

2. He was one of the fishermen called by Jesus to become fishers of men.

3. Peter and Andrew worked for his father’s fishing business.

4. He was likely the youngest of the disciples, perhaps merely a teenager at the time.

5. Perhaps because of his youth, he was very close to Jesus. John refers to himself in the Gospel of John simply as the “disciple Jesus loved.”

6. Jesus nicknamed John and his brother James “sons of thunder” because of the eager way with which they were wanted to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village that refused to offer Jesus and company hospitality.

7. He was the last surviving apostle. The best information says that he was well into his 80’s when he died at Ephesus. For obvious reasons, he was considered an elder statesman of the church in his later years. Note in 2 John, he is simply referred to as “the elder,” a term that could mean simply an older man. The term came to refer to the respected leaders of the church (and before that the Jewish synagogue).

8. He was also the only apostle to die of natural causes, if you don’t count the rigors that an extended exile and imprisonment may have had on him. All of the other apostles, according to tradition were martyred for their faith.

Three church historical writers add what may be a bit of “texture” to the history. These aren’t certain as facts, like stories from the New Testament, but they are old and have been a part of the church’s understanding of John for centuries:

• Eusebius (3 :28) tells another story of John which he got from the works of Irenaeus. We have seen that one of the leaders of the Gnostic heresy was a man called Cerinthus. “The apostle John once entered a bath to bathe; but, when he learned that Cerinthus was within, he sprang from his place and rushed out of the door, for he could not bear to remain under the same roof with him. He advised those who were with him to do the same. `Let us flee,’ he said, `lest the bath fall, for Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.”’ I love that story! It offers another glimpse of the temper of John. Apparently, Boanerges (a son of thunder) was not quite dead.

• Cassian tells another famous story about John. One day he was found playing with a tame partridge. A narrower and more rigid brother rebuked him for thus wasting his time, and John answered: “The bow that is always bent will soon cease to shoot straight.”

• It is Jerome who tells the story of the last words of John. When he was dying, his disciples asked him if he had any last message to leave them. “Little children,” he said, “love one another.” Again and again he repeated it; and they asked him if that was all he had to say. “It is enough,” he said, “for it is the Lord’s command.” I love that story. As a Pastor, it showed he cared how the people God entrusted to his care treated one another.

Take a moment and look at the beginning of 1 John. The opening of John’s letter explained three essential truths to understanding the early church:

• First, he addressed the message around which believers rallied.

• Second, he openly discussed the problems they faced.

• Third, he offered a brief description of his recipients – those who were truly following Jesus in his time.

His interest, as an aging Pastor, was that he frankly and openly addressed the body of believers with both excitement about his message and candidness concerning their current troubles. His opening idea is an honest assessment that still rings true… The church isn’t a perfect organization; it is flawed people with a wondrous message of the Perfect One.

With enthusiasm, John opened with a message about their message – a few words about the Gospel that caused them to gather together as one.

John essentially wrote: “Our work is all about Jesus (1:1-5)!” He offered five truths about the message that binds believers together:

First, the Gospel is ETERNAL TRUTH. It was always true. We didn’t create the faith; we discovered it. (1:1a).

1 John 1:1 What was from the beginning…

Second, it is HISTORICAL. It was a real encounter. We didn’t imagine a spiritual event; rather we but experienced Him. (1:1).

1 John 1:1b “…what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life

Third, it was DIVINELY SHARED. It was uncovered by God (He made Himself known). We didn’t sculpt its features; we merely shared our experience with you. (1:2).

1 John 1:2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—

Fourth, it was PURPOSELY COMMUNICATED. We shared what we found to offer you relationship both to us and to God (1:3).

1 John 1:3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

Fifth, it must be STRENGTHENED. Growing in Christ will reinforce assurance of the Gospel in us. (1:4).

1 John 1:4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.

Sixth, it has an OBVIOUS EFFECT. The Gospel is unique and profound; it stands out and cannot be mixed with other messages (1:5).

1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.

Review those truths for a second. John said: “Our message is one that existed from the beginning – but for a time was obscure. We heard it audibly, saw it physically, and handled it personally- we have a relationship with God through personally experiencing the Person and work of Jesus the Messiah. We shared with you the way to God just as He, the “life-giver,” revealed the path to us. We continue to offer the message of a growing relationship with God. We offer this letter to continue your growth in Him and help complete the work, bringing you to greater assurance in your life in Christ. Here is the truth: The encounter with Jesus changes you, and that profound change should be unique and obvious before men.”

The message that drew us together is from the Creator. It is a message that changes, and should excite us as we gaze at it. John wanted the wonder of the message that God has set us free to again cause us to think about God’s goodness.

That was the opening, but that wasn’t the problem. Our message never is. He openly discussed the fact that some were claiming faith, but their life didn’t show it to be truly theirs.

All of us who know Jesus openly acknowledge we have this profound problem… There are imitation followers (1:6-2:11). They say they have embraced the Gospel, but their life doesn’t show the obvious and profound change that should accompany belief and surrender to Jesus. We have people in our midst that TALK FAITH but don’t WALK FAITH. Some may not realize it. Others do it intentionally.

To make the point very clear, some mechanics of Bible study may be in order. Let’s try to see if we can cut through the verbiage and see a pattern that will help us follow John’s line of thinking. Look at the rest of 1 John 1. Notice a phrase that emerges and is repeated. In verse six (1:6) you may note the phrase: “If we say…” You will see it again in verse eight (1:8) and verse ten (1:10). Follow the words into the second chapter. A similar phrase carries the issue over in verse four (2:4) with the words: “one who says” – repeated again in verse six (2:6) and in verse nine (2:9). We can easily see John is making clear that people say things that don’t reflect their true inner state. He used descriptions of them like “liar” in 1:6, “self-deceived” in 1:8, as well as those who “make God a liar” in 1:10.

Now go back to the first chapter. In contrast to the WORDS of some “so-called” followers of Jesus, John made clear that ACTIONS were used to measure the reality of their true faith. He used terms about their actual lifestyle like “if we walk in darkness” in 1:6 or if he “does not keep His commandments” in 2:4. Just by that brief overview, it becomes possible to recognize the central idea: People CANNOT ask us to believe they are truly followers of Jesus if their lifestyle reflects the value system of the world.

In the opening to his letter, John made the clear point that anyone can claim to be a Christian, but their life choices show whether that claim is true. If being a Christian strictly means “being a follower of Jesus Christ”, only those who are walking along a path Jesus would walk can honestly say they are Christian. It is the walk that validates the talk.

Follow the terms: “If we say…”

Claiming we know Jesus isn’t the same as knowing Jesus. Saying we have heard of Him and know of Him isn’t the same as surrendering our daily choices to Him and reaching for His hand to daily lead us. When He leads, we will be changed. Where He leads, we will live a distinct lifestyle from the world around us. Don’t be duped by talkers that aren’t walkers…If we follow Him, we won’t think we are better than others, but we will know His cleansing of us changed the deepest hungers within us. John wrote:

1 John 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

John simply wrote: If we claim to be a Christian but walk like we aren’t – we just aren’t being honest – with ourselves and others around us. The daily practice of our faith is essential evidence of its claim over us. 1:6-7.

John faced the reality that some boldly claimed they were fellowshipping with Jesus, but they were walking according to the pattern of the dark world of the lost. He simply argued that both cannot be true! (1:6).

John’s words are clear: When we choose to follow Jesus, we are choosing a path that affects our daily life. We are choosing to live in a way that He would live. We are choosing to lock arms with others who have made that choice as well. Our cleansing is from Him and not from our work, but our lives show the relationship with Jesus in a way as profound as light piercing through a dark room. There is little ambiguity in the lifestyle of those who walk in relationship to Jesus, for we fellowship with other believers and ever humbly thank Jesus for cleansing us from our sin (1:7).

John argued: “If there isn’t a noticeable distinction between the world’s values and your values, you need to be concerned about whether you are lying to yourself about your faith.

Christianity isn’t simple theological assent to a set of historical events – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – it is surrender of choices to the One Who saved us. It is a change in life NOW, not simply a change in destination at DEATH. If that were not the case, John wouldn’t state that our faith should be seen in our daily walk.

Note that two issues were presented in the way we show our faith to the world.

• The first was a “walk in darkness” as opposed to a profound change toward a walk in the light of our relationship to Jesus.

• The second is our open willingness to walk through life together, counting on the cleansing work of the Savior.

It should be clear to the reader of his letter, then, that a Christian is one who was profoundly affected by their meeting with Christ, and is now a part of others who met Him. The fact is that Christianity wasn’t designed to be a lone journey. It wasn’t simply you and Jesus facing life. Coming to Christ means joining others who have come to Him, and seeking to reflect the powerful light of Jesus in a dark world.

The words of John penetrate deeply. Our nature has changed in our coming to Christ. Our hungers should change. Our companions should change as well. John continued with yet another lie some have been repeating within. He wrote:

If we claim we have no need of cleansing in Christ – we are self-deceived. We are in constant need for His forgiveness and renewal. 1:8-9

1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Apparently, John heard some in the faith community that were saying their salvation provided complete cleansing, so they no longer needed to battle with a sin nature in their daily choices. He remarked: “That is self-deception!” (1:8). There is a small possibility that John was addressing those who thought they never needed a Savior, but that doesn’t fit the context well, so I will simply dismiss that idea.

When we turn our attention to believers, however, there are two issues that often arise always when there is a call to holy living like the one John opened with:

First, that call has a tendency to distress some because they think that holiness implies perfection in our daily walk. Usually, this is a problem to the most responsible among us. (If you are the kind of person who apologizes for things someone else in your group did that had nothing to do with you, this may be a problem for you!)

The fact is that every believers fails to follow Jesus at times. We know that we don’t always do right, even if we are daily calling on the Spirit’s aid and working hard at submission. Does that mean we don’t really know God at all? Nothing is further from John’s mind. Encouragement to do right was not intended to make you feel worse. It wasn’t John’s purpose to cause guilt or angst, but rather to invite people to consistently and intentionally choose to follow Jesus in their daily life. The Gospel isn’t intended to spread guilt, but rather to bring us to freedom by bridging the gap fixed between God and the sinner. Telling people their value system would change when they are “in Christ” was a way to help them identify if they truly knew Jesus.

Perhaps a good way to think of the call to walk with Jesus is found in the imagery used by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament – that of a marriage. As believers, we are a part of the body of Christ, but we are also referred to as the “Bride of Christ.” This image makes our walk more understandable.

When we marry, we change our state from singleness, and become a part of the union with another. Our marriage is not only a singular choice, as in we “want to be married for a moment,” but rather the change of a state that must be demonstrated by continuous choice to act within that state. A marriage is not a simple attendance at a wedding – it is a daily choice to act out the vows made at the wedding ceremony. In the same way, the Gospel began a relationship, and it is one that implies ongoing choices to signal the initial choice was sincere.

Now, every analogy breaks down at some point, and our relationship with God through Christ cannot be summarized neatly is a short analogy without some limitations, but hopefully this helps to make the general idea more clear.

Second, there are some who rebuff calls to holiness because they understand the Gospel to give them license to live according to their desires without penalty.

There is a theology that was born from the conflict inside the strong-willed believer. This is the person who is most opposite of the “constantly guilty Christian” we discussed a moment ago, for they seem to celebrate a theological concept that allows guilt to be set aside regardless of current lifestyle or behavior. You will find them in many church circles. They are people who believe in Jesus but feel no particular need to act on that belief – and they offer a theological reason why they feel as they do.

Here is their line of logic in a brief summation: The end of verse seven promised: “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” If Jesus saved me from all my sin – past, present and future – as one covered by His blood, I may continue on my way through life with a perpetually clean account before God regardless of my choices after I am saved. After all, since there is “no condemnation” for me, I am in Christ (Romans 8) and I am assured Heaven because of the finished work of Jesus, why should I fret over my failings? Isn’t His death supposed to make me secure in my life? With such a refuge, why would I care about what I choose today? My walk has no bearing on my eternity.

There is some truth to that position, but there is also a serious flaw. Here is the central issue: Within each of us is a deep inner hunger for license to “live for self.” Every believer faces it, and every day brings a new challenge to surrender will to the Master. When that urge gets paired with the knowledge that Jesus made me completely clean, it can produce in us a problem for our daily walk. My old nature, lurking beneath the surface of my trained veneer, is ever enticed to follow the siren call of the fallen world around me, that lives in perpetual rebellion against God. A theology of forgiveness that immediately frees me from the need to care about sin sounds like a gift to one who doesn’t want to push against a sinful nature.

In the letter, the Apostle John asserted a truth to bring people back to the main thought behind the Biblical presentation of salvation – the Gospel offers us a walk with God. It is an error to think the center of the message of Christianity is to provide Heaven for people; it isn’t. It is to reconcile people to God. The central message of the Gospel isn’t about Heaven – it is about a relationship with the Living God through Christ’s work on the Cross.

Believers must remember the focal point of our destiny isn’t merely a tearless gaze upon shining streets of gold, but a future time of unending intimacy with God!

It is true that Jesus paid for all of our sin, and we stand faultless before God when we acknowledge the payment as fully sufficient. At the same time, Jesus paid for our sins on the Cross with the primary purpose of pulling us back into an intimate and personal relationship with God. When we treat our cleansed state in Christ as a license for an indulgent but guiltless life, we miss the whole point of salvation. We were saved to walk with Him. Thinking of salvation as a ticket to do as I please is a form of self-deception.

As a result, God provided a way to deal with sin in a believer’s life that includes coming back to Him for a renewal (1 John 1:9). The process begins with confession – a mere open agreement with God that what I did was self-focused and pulled me from a proper walk with Him. Pretending that my state of righteousness has become a license is no way to honor God with my life.

Not only that, but when we live like we don’t need Him, we live a lie. For those who may argue they don’t need a Savior, they are just plain wrong (1 John 1:10). John wrote:

1 John 1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

You cannot claim to be able to live as you please and yet have a vibrant walk with God. By the same token, you cannot claim you follow His Word if you live a theology that invites self-will over surrender. John continued:

1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. 3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.

He made clear that his desire was to share what he could to help the people grow in their faith and walk in truth. He wanted them to set aside sinful behavior and renew their walk with Jesus! He reminded them we have an advocate if we sin that will represent us (2:1) and He IS our payment (2:2). We can walk in assurance by walking in obedience.

When we try to hide that we have sinned, we disrupt, at least for a time, God’s use of our lives, and kill the growth of His grace within us! We remain in bondage instead of moving ahead in victory. It reminds me of a famous story:

“I PLEAD GUILTY!” The great “prince of preachers” Charles Haddon Spurgeon used to tell this story: “A certain ruler once boarded a galley ship. As he passed the crew of slaves, he asked several of them what their offenses were. Almost every man claimed he was innocent. They laid the blame on someone else or accused the judge of yielding to bribery. One young fellow, however, spoke out, ‘Sir, I deserve to be here. I stole some money. No one is at fault but myself. I’m guilty.’ Upon hearing this, the duke seized him by the shoulder and shouted, ‘You scoundrel, you! What are you doing here with all these honest men? Get out of their company at once!’ He was then set at liberty while the rest were left to tug at the oars.” The key to this prisoner’s freedom was the admission of his guilt.

John repeated the claim he made in 1 John 1:6-7. He reminded: “If we say we know Jesus, but walk as though we do not – this is a lie! (2:4).

1 John 2:4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:

Obedience is the prerequisite for completion in His love (2:5), for what we truly believe comes out in our lives. It is not the Sunday church us, but the Monday morning us that our children read as the “real us”. In fact, to drive home the point, someone quipped: “A hypocrite is a person who is not himself on Sunday.” Another man, an obvious skeptic, who’d apparently seen hypocritical Christian behavior wrote, “A Christian is a man who feels sorry on a Sunday for what he did on Saturday and is going to do on Monday.

We need to get past the surface of our lives and concern ourselves more with what God thinks than everyone else. We need to be honest. We aren’t nearly as good at covering our hypocrisy as we may think. Someone told me a story some time back that makes the point clear:

A 12-year-old boy was waiting for his first orthodontist appointment and was a bit nervous. Apparently he wanted to impress the dentist. On the patient questionnaire, in the space marked “Hobbies,” he had written, “Swimming and flossing.”

Yes, we really ARE that transparent sometimes!

John wasn’t done with the verbal misrepresentations of faith yet. He continued:

1 John 2:6 “…the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

He made the point that some say they live in relationship with Jesus. If this is true, it is proper to expect they live as He lived (2:6). There is a simple implied idea: We cannot live a different lifestyle with different priorities than Jesus but fit Jesus into that lifestyle – all the while claiming we are followers.

Unfortunately, hypocrisy is one of the most damaging events occurring in churches today. A businessman was returning home from a business trip. The plane pulled in, the passengers were dismissed and his wife met him at the gate. They made their way to the baggage claim area when an extremely attractive stewardess walked by. Suddenly, the husband came to life. Beaming, he said to the stewardess, “I hope we can fly together again, Miss Jones.” She grinned at him and walked away. Just then, his wife asked, “How did you know the name of that stewardess?” Husband plays it off, “Well, her name was posted up front in the plane, right under the names of the pilot and co-pilot.” You know what the wife said? “Oh really? How nice of you to notice… Tell me, what were the names of the pilot and the co-pilot?” BUSTED! The man’s hypocrisy was uncovered. His true motives were revealed.

Finally, John drove one final case home about people who speak in a way that shows something is wrong inside. He wrote:

1 John 2:9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

We simply cannot say they are walking in fellowship with God, but allow unrepentant hate to reign in our hearts with our brother. Only those who love their brother are really walking in the light where they won’t trip (2:10). The one who continually hates his brother is in darkness, and is blind and fumbling around. The bottom line is this: We can’t ask God to forgive us of our sin and not forgive those who have hurt us!

John reminded us of the wonder of the Gospel message, and followed that with a survey of truths that should indicate the difference between a real follower and a fake.

In the last part of the lesson, John reminded us of the flock – those who were truly following Jesus.

I love that John was a Shepherd. His writing wasn’t simply about the problems of the faith – but about the PEOPLE of God’s Kingdom. He knew were his words were directed, and targeted them to real people following a real Savior. He wrote:

1 John 2:12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

He remarked:

• I am writing to believers – those forgiven by Jesus’ work (2:12).
• I am writing to eye witnesses (he called “fathers”) because some were around to know Jesus himself (2:13a).
• I am writing to young winners that have seen victory in Him (2:13b).
• I wrote to discerning children who know what our Father is like (2:13b).
• I wrote to fathers with track records of following (2:14a), to young men who have been steadfast in peril and to all who have God’s Word hidden in their heart (2:14b).

There are markers that indicate whether someone is truly part of the body of Christ – or not. They aren’t just words – they are actions. They are choices that reflect values, standards and deeply held truths.

Christianity can be taught, but on closer inspection, it is mostly lived. Our commitment to Jesus makes our walk different. It isn’t FORCED. It is a joy. It can be seen in the way we make the most of today.

Famed educator Booker T. Washington recalled the “entrance exam” that earned him a place at the Hampton Institute in Virginia as a young man. The head teacher ordered Washington to take a broom and sweep the classroom. Because he knew this was his chance, he swept the room three times and dusted the furniture four times. When the teacher returned, she inspected the floor closely and ran her handkerchief over the woodwork. Unable to find a speck of dust anywhere, she said, “I guess you will do to enter this institution.” Washington later said that this was the turning point of his life. Don’t waste your time waiting and longing for large opportunities which may never come. But faithfully handle the little things that are always claiming your attention. F.B. Meyer.