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.