How to be sure - 1 John 5:1-21

This is a sermon by Graham Sayer from the evening service on 24th July 2005.

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He cuts down the tree he planted. He takes half of it and makes a fire, after all, it is man's fuel for burning. He prepares his meal on it and eats his fill. He moves close and says, "Ah! I am warm."

But this isn’t extreme survival with Ray Mears…Let me read on…

With the rest of the wood he makes a god, his idol; He measures it out and makes an outline with a marker. He roughs it out with chisels and then he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, "Save me; you are my god."

No-one stops to think, no-one has the knowledge or understanding to say, "Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals and roasted meat and ate. Shall I now make a false god from what’s left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?" A deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or even say, "Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?"

So says Isaiah, the prophet, in a paraphrase of part of Chapter 44, you see he’s a spiritual survival expert… speaking of the stupidity of those contemplate undertaking the most important expedition of their life… totally ill equipped.

It’s a pretty strong point he’s making don’t you think? A bit like that current road safety poster, you may have seen it - ‘DRINK DRIVERS ARE IDIOTS’, well Isaiah would say ‘WORSHIPPING IDOLS IS STUPID’… and can you argue against him? Perhaps not on that reading… but what about when the thing we hold up in our right hand isn’t an idol made from a lump of wood?

What about when ‘the thing we hold in our right hand’ is painstakingly contoured financial security, or perfectly manicured health and well-being, or cunningly crafted ambition… would you argue against him then? Many would!

But worse still, what if it is a Jesus. One whom we have conformed to our own image… yes, he has the same name… and he bears more than a passing resemblance to the Jesus of the NT… but he isn’t the Son of God…and he certainly isn’t the Lord over my life.. at least not in any interfering way…I just like to know he is there…and he just likes to let me get on with doing whatever I want!

All of these are idols. All reflect the world we live in… Isaiah lived in that world. And John, who wrote that letter we read from earlier, also lived in that same world… And when he uses the word ‘world’ he means this: the whole society of humanity in opposition to and rebellion against God. And whilst to our eternal benefit it is God himself that so loved this ‘world’ that he gave his one and only son to die for it, that is, for us… Christians cannot and must not love it, for to do so will mean that sooner or later we run afoul of that very disaster of stupidity that was driving Isaiah apoplectic… and with which the apostle John was fighting in his first letter, albeit in a very different guise… remember him writing about the world in ch2?

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world.

16 For everything in the world-- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-- comes not from the Father but from the world.

That is your world and mine too… the world we are in and that is also in each one of us to a greater or lesser extent. It loves idols. We tend to love idols…

And Christian’s sadly, aren’t immune from this sort of thing. Because we are in this world we will have a tough time of it. It appeals to our lusts and cravings and offers so, so many things… things that would eventually blind us and delude us so that in the end we could not even say ‘is not this thing in my right hand… that I am going to put all my hopes into, and all my effort toward… a lie’….

So John finishes his letter with a tour de force, that offers us tonight, whoever we are, Christian or not… a choice. Will you follow an idol… a false god, and so consign yourself to the way of the world… and therefore the end of that world too… that is, Hell, or will you listen to John, overcome the world and enjoy God forever… here’s what he has to say… firstly, and absolutely essentially…

Faith in Christ is the key to victory v1-5

Every single person lives by faith in something. The issue is never whether or not you have faith… It is always what you put your faith in. But many people today do not think like this at all. Many people in a society such as ours, so independent, so self-sufficient and so comfortable only come to the point of questioning what their own personal safety net might be when they are already free-falling in the avalanche of one of life’s traumas.

If we want to maintain a helpful understanding of faith we need to think firstly of the object of our faith. The fixed point that gives our faith it’s alleged trustworthiness. It is an issue primarily of quality rather than quantity of faith. That is, it is the quality of the object in which you put your faith and against which you exercise your faith that will determine whether that faith works or not.

Rock climbers, at least the moderately sane ones, protect themselves on a climb with ropes… but those ropes need anchor points to even begin to give any protection from a fall. It has to be said that some anchor points are more secure than others… but when you find a bomb-proof anchor… it doesn’t half change the way you feel about that bit of climbing! So, in beginning to climb you exercise your faith in the ability of that anchor to protect you, to hold fast in the event of a fall and in addition to give you that assurance and confidence to go ahead.

Now, in some quarters today faith has become its own object… so people have faith in faith… for example, you hear from time to time reports of those who have not been healed from some disability or illness at a healing meeting and the reason given is this – ‘you did not have enough faith’… that is a terrible, terrible way to treat people… and it totally misunderstands the biblical view of faith.

Faith should never be its own object… and when it does occupy that place… it will always lead to doubt… ‘how much faith do I need?’, ‘maybe I need a bit more’… ‘why haven’t I got enough’… there’s no assurance or confidence there… and that defeats the whole purpose of faith in the first place! It’s like saying climb with confidence but giving no anchor point to ground that confidence.

And for John in Ch 5 that is priority #1, to emphasize the only true object of faith. The only true anchor point for our lives…

Verses 1-5 are intricately intertwined… but he begins with the belief that Jesus is the Christ v1, and ends in v5 with the belief that Jesus is the Son of God. And we know from our series, that false teachers were denying that very truth of who Jesus was… they were saying that Jesus was not the Son of God.

But if Jesus isn’t God, then he cannot be the effector of God’s love to us and we cannot live through him as we learnt in Ch4. Jesus Christ, the Son of God has to be the object of our faith. No other quality of anchor will do.

But there is also a quantity element to faith isn’t there? However it has to depend on the quality of the object. You see, when you have the strongest anchor point of all in place in your life… you’ll obviously want to live your whole life in the confidence and assurance that he gives!

So Jesus Christ the Son of God is the object of our faith… but don’t take my word for it… look at what that means… for John now shows us the effects of this faith.

Having Jesus Christ as your anchor… makes you a Christian. You are born of God v1. You may be waiting for some experience or feeling to know that it is right for you… and that may or may not happen… but what you have to know and what you can count on is this… if you throw yourself at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ, depending that he died in your place… then you will live through him… God will forgive you because of him, and you are part of the family - you are born of God. There is no bigger transformation that can ever happen to you… You have passed from death to life. Your destiny has changed from Hell to Heaven… all because of Jesus. I’m not going to ask if you want that tonight… I’m going to tell you with all my heart that that is what you need…

But this faith also makes you love other Christians. It is irresistible logic really!

If you’re born of God you love God so you love Jesus his child and therefore you love his other children as well…So we can’t live our ‘Christian’ lives with zero reference at all to our brothers and sisters and their needs, can we? No. We will we show that we love them, and in doing so know that we love them – see that in v2 – by loving God and obeying his commands.

But then notice that this faith in Jesus Christ also makes you an ‘overcomer’.

There is victory over the world.

And whilst the ultimate victory is certain… ‘this is the victory that has overcome the world… even our faith’ v4… there also seems to be a continuing process of overcoming too… ‘everyone born of God overcomes’, and ‘who is it that overcomes’,vv4-5…our faith is not just a victorious state into which we are brought but also a continual activity of knowing victory over the world every day as we exercise our trust and dependence in Jesus Christ every day.

And please don’t forget where the world is! No doubt we do face opposition from without… but this enemy is within…– cravings, lusts and boasts – things that are in us still, remember…

But 2v17 again…

17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives for ever

That is why the problem of misplaced faith is a problem… and therefore why faith, trust and dependence in any such worldly things will ultimately fail. The world and its desires will pass away and you’ll go with them if it is them and the idols that feed them that you cling to.

So holding on to this fundamental truth of who Jesus really is, is absolutely essential if we as Christians are going to survive in this world… and not just survive… but overcome… be victorious… tell all those lusts and boasts and desires to shove off because we have been captivated by someone offering something far superior - Jesus is in charge in our lives.

So are you an overcomer? Do you know anything of this victory?

It all hangs on your anchor point.

Is Jesus Christ, the Son of God your anchor point? If not you fall…

This faith works… and the reason it works is because it is real… so secondly John shows us just how real it is…by showing us that such faith is not blind faith… neither is it mystic knowledge… No. The reason that Faith in Christ is the key to victory is that…

Evidence for Christ is the key to faith v6-12

The excitement over Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code has died down now, at least until the film comes out, but Ali – my wife was talking some time ago with a colleague of hers. This person was intrigued at the implications of the points he was making… Ali countered by stating that there is no evidence for what he was saying, in contrast to the huge evidence for the Bible account of Jesus Christ. ‘Well he doesn’t have to give hard evidence if he’s writing fiction!’ she came back… Which would be fine wouldn’t it if she was acting as if it were fiction… instead… her actions like so many others indicated that she thought it was at least more believable than the Bible!

But John deals in hard fact, and so again, with an eye on the false teachers who would rob Jesus Christ of his attributes… John takes us back to the realms of his own experience as an eye-witness, and he sets up a courtroom scene where there are a number of witnesses who give evidence in support of Jesus as the Son of God. He calls three witnesses… but there is one testimony!

On first reading these verses seem to be less than straightforward but we should let v11-12 frame our approach here. The focus here is on the work of Christ - his ministry and what it achieved. If we keep that in view we won’t go wrong.

Firstly then, John calls the water and the blood

The reason he calls these is because false teachers like this Cerinthus chap we’ve heard about a little in this series believed that the Christ, the Son of God came down onto Jesus at his baptism and then left him before his death.

The water here refers to Jesus baptism, and the blood refers to his death. John states that Jesus, the Son of God came literally (and very importantly) through water…that is, he was the Son of God then also before his baptism. But even if Cerinthus and his cronies conceded that… John is at pains to say ‘but not only did he come through water but through blood as well’ – referring to his crucifixion, and the fact that he was the Son of God through his death too.

And think for a moment about how his baptism relates to his death, isn’t the symbolism of baptism itself a powerful summary of Jesus future ministry with its vivid pictures of death, cleansing and new life – And so Jesus Christ the Son of God could only fulfil that picture by shedding his blood. Two important witnesses then.

But here is John speaking in his earlier book about the next witness he calls – none other than God the Holy Spirit who endorsed in person Jesus baptism…

John 1:32-34

32 …"I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.

33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.'

34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God."

And John also writes in his letter v6 of ch5, ‘it is the Spirit who testifies because the Spirit is the truth.’

We’re familiar aren’t we with swearing on oath in a court of Law. And who is it that we swear before? God! Well, if we accept man’s testimony at such times… what will we do with the testimony of God the Holy Spirit, who doesn’t have to swear by God to tell the truth… for He cannot do anything else but tell the truth… and that truth is this one testimony through his word the Bible, which incidentally, John is only writing because he is being inspired by the Holy Spirit himself!

And here is that testimony on which all the witnesses agree…v11-12

11 …this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Now the upshot of all that is this…The Christian faith is not a wild stab in the dark. It is not a vague idea. It is possible to investigate it thoroughly!

That’s good news if you’re not a Christian yet. When I was working with students at Kingston University I came across this slogan on the front cover of a magazine promoting another faith group… it said this… ‘to those who believe, no explanation is required. To those who don’t, none will suffice’… that’s basically ‘take our word for it and don’t ask questions… otherwise shove off!’

Christianity can say ‘don’t take our word for it… there’s far too much at stake… eternal life or eternal death! So please… will you check it out?

Maybe you have questions holding you back? Why not speak to one of the ministers ASAP… and get signed up to a Christianity Explored course… and see for yourself. Think. If the stakes are as high as John is saying then surely its worth taking a look isn’t it?

So faith in Christ is the key to victory and Evidence for Christ is the key to faith… and that leads us on to the climax of John’s letter… enticingly labelled in your NIV bible as ‘concluding remarks’. (Always remember, the scripture are inspired by God… the section headings are not!). Finally then…

Assurance in Christ is the key to living v13-21

As we’ve seen in previous weeks John constantly presents us with three sorts of test… a doctrinal test – what you believe, a moral test – are you obeying, and a love test… and the reason for that is v13.

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

We all know that experts are those who know more and more about less and less until at last they know everything about nothing! Well John certainly wants us to know more and more… but he wants us to know more and more about more and more… Just look at what the Christian knows according to John…

Know that you have eternal life v13, know that God hears us & know that we have what we asked of him v15, know that those born of God do not continue to sin v18, know that we are children of God v19, know that Jesus has given us understanding and know him who is true v20.

And it is the person that knows who can have confidence. Here are 3 parts of our lives where this assurance… this knowing for sure will be seen… Firstly we will be… Confident in prayer v14-15

It is important to notice what John is not saying here… He is not offering carte blanche to ask for anything and everything you want. You are not entitled to any confidence should you do that, neither should you even expect God to hear you. Rather v14 ‘this is the confidence…. Ask anything according to his will’.

The expectation is that as his children we are committed to the family business… and that will be reflected in what we ask God for. Selfish, prayers that have much more to do with those lusts and cravings and boasts of the world… show that we have no real concern for God’s work in his world… and should certainly give no grounds for assurance.

But for those who take care to get to know the will of God, their loving Father, in the Bible… they will find themselves praying for those things that God is passionate about and more concerned about doing then we ever could be!… and that is our confidence. We should therefore take time to think through the things we pray for… and think what God’s will is… try and identify that revealed will in the place he has revealed it, the Bible and pray accordingly. Ask yourself a quick example. When someone is stricken with illness what do I immediately pray for that person?

I’ll give you the answer, which isn’t necessarily wrong…. That they be healed. But can you confidently expect God to do that? Or are there other things that we need to think about that God has promised at such times… well there are… have a think and see what you come up with - we haven’t time to go through them now!

And our confidence in prayer will spill over to the way we view our Christian relationships…we will be…

Radical in fellowship v16-19

Here we come to some verses that have caused not a small amount of debate. The crux of this debate is to do with the difference between sin that leads to death and sin that doesn’t lead to death.

We know there are two groups of people in John’s sights. The children of God whom the evil one cannot harm because of Jesus v18, and those who have gone out from amongst them 2v19 back to the world and who are now under the control of the evil one – the false teachers. It is most likely that John has these latter in mind when he speaks about a sin that leads to death… where that sin has been a turning away from the knowledge and goodness and public profession of Christ and his forgiveness.

But the focus of his attention is on those who commit a sin that does not lead to death. This person is a brother in v16. Why should this sin not lead to death? Simply because if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves 1v8, but if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins – no death.

But sin is serious v17 and we are to pray for this person, that God will give him life. And that there is a confident prayer… based on God’s promise. Being radical in fellowship involves at least two things… an awareness of the deceitfulness of sin… and a desire to cut it out of our lives whenever it surfaces. That involves a personal commitment to one another, not least to pray for each other. So how radical is our fellowship here at St John’s?

Once again, we are to be defined by our love for one another… and who can say what benefits are applied to each one of us because of brothers and sisters who have borne us up in prayer.

But finally our assurance is directly related to our being…

Strong in ‘knowing’ v20-21

And you’re probably thinking that I’ve written that funny. Well I’ve written it as ‘knowing’ rather than ‘knowledge’ for a reason. Knowledge is abstract and detached but ‘knowing’ implies an active relationship. And according to v20 any knowledge and understanding we have is only because Jesus has given it to us anyway through that relationship that Christians have with him! He is after all, the true God and eternal life. We are able to know him through his word… and as we respond to what he says, and as we get to know more of what he commands… we’ll become stronger and stronger…

….and that is the thing with assurance. At the end of the day it comes down to what it is you believe and how believable you think it to be.

So how can you be sure? How can you be sure about Christianity? How can you know that Jesus is the only anchor that can possibly bear the weight of your present and your eternal future?

John can offer you all sorts of arguments and lots and lots of evidence. So yes. Check it out. Yes. Ask your questions. But as the saying goes… the proof is in the pudding… you have to step out in faith… put all of your weight onto that rope… and trust that Jesus Christ the Son of God will never let you fall, and it is only when you experience the victory that Jesus brings in overcoming the world… and the confidence of that unique Christian assurance based on all that evidence, and you enjoy the love of the Christian community... the church in prayer and care that you will know how good it is to know Jesus… and even when things couldn’t get worse on this earth… and you face the spectre of death …the best is still yet to come! You’ve taken John at his word and you know that because you believe, trust, put your faith in the name of the Son of God… you know you have eternal life.

Can it get any better than that? Can a lump of wood give you that? Can supposed financial security give you that? Can a realised ambition give you that? Can a Jesus who is anything other than the Son of God and eternal life give you that? Will you be clutching onto some pathetic, impotent, little distraction in your right hand as you stand before the throne of your creator? Or will you say with the hymn writer ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling…’

21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

It’s either them… or Jesus Christ the Son of God. You choose.

 

 

Let’s pray

God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Father, I pray that every one in this room will have life. Will see their lives in the light of eternity… and receive life through Jesus.

And for those of us of whom that is true, those of us who believe in the name of the Son of God … I pray that we might know for sure that we have eternal life… living in confidence and assurance until that day when we meet him face to face….

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 John 5v1-21 – how to be sure…

Idols then and now

  • Faith in Christ is the key to victory v1-5

- The object of our faith

Jesus Christ the Son of God

- The effects of our faith

Makes you a Christian

Makes you love Christians

Makes you an ‘overcomer’

  • Evidence for Christ is the key to faith v6-12

- Three witnesses

The water and the blood

Not ‘by’ but ‘through’… always the Son of God from before his baptism to after his death!

God the Holy Spirit

Endorses the baptism, always speaks the truth, Testifies through John’s testimony

- One testimony

v11 …this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

  • Assurance in Christ is the key to living v13-21

- Confident in prayer v14-15

- Radical in fellowship v16-19

- Strong in ‘knowing’ v20

v21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

1 John 5v1-21 – how to be sure…

Idols then and now

  • Faith in Christ is the key to victory v1-5

- The object of our faith

Jesus Christ the Son of God

- The effects of our faith

Makes you a Christian

Makes you love Christians

Makes you an ‘overcomer’

  • Evidence for Christ is the key to faith v6-12

- Three witnesses

The water and the blood

Not ‘by’ but ‘through’… always the Son of God from before his baptism to after his death!

God the Holy Spirit

Endorses the baptism, always speaks the truth, Testifies through John’s testimony

- One testimony

v11 …this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

  • Assurance in Christ is the key to living v13-21

- Confident in prayer v14-15

- Radical in fellowship v16-19

- Strong in ‘knowing’ v20

v21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.


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