Faith is the Victory – 1 John 5:1-5

“And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.” (1 John 5:4b ESV)

As the Apostle John winds up his letter, he develops a climax that ties together the integral parts of his exhortation. Remember, the purpose of the book is to help believers know they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Also, recall that the way in which believers will attain this assurance can be divided into two categories: the objective foundation and the subjective evidences. The objective foundation is centered in Jesus Christ; Christ alone is the sum and source of our salvation and all of our doubts ought to be brought into submission to his nature, love, and authority. The subjective evidences involve a desire to love the brethren and obey God’s commands. How do these two strands of the cord of assurance connect? By faith.

For a sinner to receive the forgiveness that is offered in Christ alone, he must believe the gospel by faith. For a believer to find assurance that he indeed is a child of God, he must look to Christ by faith. For a child of God to desire to obey God’s commands, he must rely on God by faith. For believers to obey God’s command to love one another, they must deny themselves by faith.

Seeing faith as the connection between love and obedience puts the First Epistle of John into a more clear perspective. When John says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” he is not saying a mere mental assent to the facts of Jesus’ life assures someone of salvation. Rather, when we see saving, living faith as that which involves new desires to obey God and to love the brethren, then “faith” is a complete package, a beautiful picture of a redeemed life.

This kind of faith overcomes the world. The world that is hostile to the gospel, that would desire to call us away from God, that stands in opposition to everything offered by God, cannot have victory over the child of God. No, the victory belongs to God’s people, who are given all they need to overcome the world through Christ by faith.

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Test the Spirits – 1 John 4:1-6

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1 ESV)

In 1 John chapter 4, we see John’s pastoral heart poured out toward his readers once again. As he considers once more the circumstances that compete for their assurance of salvation, the Apostle writes to his “beloved” friends not to believe every spirit. Rather, they ought to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (4:1).

Why must these first-century Christians be on guard continually? “For many false prophets have gone out into the world” (4:1). This brutal fact signifies the call for these believers, and every believer, to remain steadfastly committed to the truth and to exercise God-given discernment when dealing with teaching. Like the Bereans mentioned in the Book of Acts, Christians ought to “search the scriptures to see if these things are so.” Everything we hear and everyone we hear from must be filtered through the ultimate authority, God’s Word.

At the time this epistle was written, a major false teaching centered around the nature of Jesus Christ. Some apostates denied that Christ had literally come in the flesh. John assures his readers that such people are “not from God” but rather have the “spirit of antichrist.”

It seems that today, heresies have multiplied by a thousand. Walk into a religious bookstore and you may find dozens of more false teachings concerning Christ, or the Bible, or the Holy Spirit, or any other Christian teaching. Though this may be a discouraging reality, our marching orders stay the same: test the spirits!

If you feel as though you are swimming in an ocean of false teaching, concerned about whether what you believe is true or not, recall John’s encouragement to his original audience: “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” If you abide in God and study his word, the Spirit of God will reveal the truth to you, and you will be able to have real, tangible truths against which you can discern error. God has given us what we need to stay in the truth, and no matter who or what attempts to steal us away, remember – he is greater!

Heart and Spirit – 1 John 3:19-24

“. . .for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20)

The Apostle John, apparently ignorant of the moral of most Disney movies, does not trust the human heart as a faithful guide to truth. In fact, he sees the heart as in need of reassurance and as a possible source of condemnation. These realities are in keeping with what Jeremiah the prophet said about the heart – that it is “desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Whether through John or Jeremiah or another human mouthpiece, God’s testimony about the heart is clear – if you want to discover truth, do not look within your heart, look outside of yourself. True, Christians have been regenerated and our hearts are being renewed, but even as believers, we are to base our confidence in God, who knows all things, and not in our hearts, which still lie to us from time to time.

Many of us can relate to this struggle. Our hearts condemn us. Sometimes we bear the guilt and shame of sin and forget the promise that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (Romans 5:1). Sometimes our hearts are cold and seem to lack a connection to God. There are mornings when true, blood-bought, born-again sons and daughters of the Most High just . . . don’t feel saved when they arise.

Thank God our salvation is not based on the shifting sands of our emotions, but on the solid rock of Jesus Christ! Your heart may condemn you, but God is greater than your heart (v20). If we believe on Christ, love one another, and follow his commands, the Spirit of God will testify to us that we indeed are born of God.

Next week, we’ll continue looking at what God says about the assurance of our salvation. We’ll cover 1 John 3:19-24 – six ancient verses of scripture that today’s Christian will certainly resonate with. No matter what generation we live in or what season of our journey we walk in, we will always find that our heart will lead us away from truth. May the Lord use this passage to give us greater confidence and to redirect us to himself when we are tempted to follow our feelings.

Children of God- 1 John 3:1-10

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1 ESV)

In the third chapter of John’s epistle, the Apostle continues encouraging his audience toward confidence in God. Recall that the main thrust of this epistle is assurance of salvation, particularly assurance in the midst of apostasy. We have considered truths about God (“God is Light”, “God is Love”) and now John highlights truth about believers in their relationship with God. We are his children!

The fact that believers are the children of the Most High is another basic truth that we often take for granted. Like the doctrine of God’s love and the imperative for us to love one another, the truth that believers have a relationship with God as Father is often relegated to the elementary points of the Christian faith, taught and memorized during children’s Sunday School and inevitably left behind to move on to bigger and deeper teachings. While in fact being children of God is an elemental truth of our faith, it is not something we ought to move past. We should never get over it. God loves us so much that he has made us his children (3:1)!

Like the audience of John’s day, many Christians struggle with assurance. We feel our prayers unanswered. We question our faith. We struggle with doubt. We see little victory in sin. We observe apostasy all around us. Let the Apostle John’s Spirit-inspired, 2,000 year old, pastoral advice speak to you today: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God!”

As he does elsewhere, John also includes evidences along with his encouragement. Verse 10 says, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” Most likely, John was responding to apostates who taught that holiness was optional. However, following Christ’s own statement that true and false disciples are known by the fruit they bear, John says that the true children of God are marked by practicing righteousness and loving the brethren. We have considered how loving the brethren proves our salvation; in this message we will consider how this love, coupled with a desire for righteousness, proves that we are children of God. God not only makes us his children, he wants us to know we are!

Abide in the Truth You Know – 1 John 2:18-29

I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. (1 John 1:21 ESV)

We bemoan the decay of truth in our society, and we should. What is worse than the world redefining and denying the existence of any absolute truth, however, is when truth is denied in the church. We are well aware of the manifold heresies that plague the professing church today. None of this is new, however.

In the first century, deceivers and false brethren plotted to steal the sheep away from the Shepherd. These were antichrists, whom John’s audience heard “is coming” and “now many antichrists have come” (v18). In fact, the very existence of these men proved that it was “the last hour” (v18). The antichrists were denying the Father by denying the Son (v22-23) and trying to deceive believers (v26). Add to those charges the tragedy that they came not from without, but from within the very fold they were trying to deceive (v19), and we can relate to the fears and anxieties of first century Christians.

But John, by the inspiration of the Spirit, is not aiming to leave his readers in despondency. In fact, even as he warns of antichrists, John’s disposition is not one of doom and gloom but of hope and encouragement. He refers to his recipients as “children”, writing from a pastor’s heart. He writes of a sharp contrast between those antichrists and the true believers: they have denied the faith, but you know the truth. He encourages them by reminding them of who they are and what they have in Christ: “you have been anointed by the Holy One” (v20), “you have all knowledge” (v20), “you know [the truth]” (v21), you have the “promise that he made to us – eternal life”, and the anointing “abides in you” and “teaches you about everything” and “is true” (27).

What, then, shall we do when it seems truth is crumbling all around us? Abide. Remain. Stay the course. “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.” (v24) It’s not the coming of the antichrist that should grab our attention, but the coming of the Son of God. He is the one we aim to please, looking for him with joyful expectation and confidence. How do we have this confidence? Abide. Remain. Stay the course. “Abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” (v28)

 

Do Not Love the World – 1 John 2:15-17

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15 ESV)

Christians enjoy a unique status in this life. On one hand they “have passed from death to life” (John 5:24) and are already “seated in heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6), belonging to a kingdom “not of this world” (John 18:36); on the other hand, believers are sent “into all the world” (Matthew 28:18) and still deal with the reality of “this present time” (Romans 8:18). Someone has suggested that Christians are “people of the future living in the present.” While our true home is in heaven with Christ, our present time holds us in the tension between the already and the not yet.

Throughout his epistle, John exhorts his readers about the importance of love. As we’ve seen, God is love and love comes from God (1 John 4:8). The one who does not love does not know God. Clearly, love is a priority and the first evidence of one’s salvation. In our text, 1 John 2:15-17, however, John says “do not love.” What are Christians not to love? The world.

The supernatural love that we receive from God is to be first directed back toward him in a personal relationship; it then flows out to other believers who are our true brothers and sisters in Christ. That love, though, is not to be given to this word. This does not mean we are not to have godly compassion on the world as God does. If we keep in mind John’s definition of love (based on the love of Christ), then Christians are exhorted to not sacrifice their precious time on worldly things, namely, “the desires of the flesh, and the desires of the eyes, and pride in possessions” (1 John 2:16).

Many a sermon has used this text as a springboard against worldliness, and indeed it is a strong admonition against such. However, we must keep in mind that our terms must be defined by scripture, not cultural trends. What is considered “worldly” by one Christian may not be considered such by another. Our time in this text does not seek to provide a list of what behaviors are worldly. We will instead focus on the heart. A heart that is wrapped up in the things of this world cannot also be filled with the Father’s love. Rather than discuss choices in dress and music and entertainment we will be challenged to take inventory of our hearts and ask whether or not we truly love this world.

As Christians, we walk the line between heaven and earth. The things of this world will try to capitvate your heart. But remember, “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:17)

Love One Another – 1 John 2:7-14; 3:11-18

“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” 1 John 3:11 ESV

The First Epistle of John is filled with imperatives for Christians to love one another. The Apostle John, by the Spirit’s inspiration, is carrying through and expounding upon Christ’s own words as recorded in John’s gospel as, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus spoke these words directly to his disciples, one of whom, John, expands that command to all believers. Just as Jesus’ original twelve would be known “by their love for one another” (John 13:35), so all those who profess to be followers of Christ throughout all the ages would also be known by their love for one another.

This commandment of love is the first proof of salvation we will consider in this epistle, as it is the most prominent of the proofs. 1 John is written so Christians would have assurance of salvation. The means by which God provides this assurance fall into objective and subjective categories. We have noted those objective truths that give us confidence; now we turn to the subjective evidences – things we look for in our own lives that assure us that we indeed are in Christ. The very first thing on this list is love. Love permeates John’s epistle. Last week, our exposition focused on love as an attribute of God. Now we receive the first practical application of that love – love one another.

“Love one another” is not a suggestion. It is not an option for a Christian. It cannot be placed on a list of “gray areas.” Good Christians do not hold varying interpretations on this matter that are debated in public forums or book series. There are no good Christians who do not love one another; there are no Christians who do not love the brethren.

Few things can be more black-and-white than this. Just as belief in Christ is the necessary article of faith, loving the brethren is the first and necessary fruit of salvation. John’s terms cannot be more crystal clear: whoever loves his brother abides in the light (2:10), the one who does not love his brother is not of God (3:10), whoever does not love abides in death (3:14), whoever loves has been born of God and knows God (4:7) but the one who does not love does not know God (4:8), and, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (4:20).

Loving the brethren is a non-negotiable matter for the Christian. May Christ’s command to us expose sins which must be repented of, yet reveal to us the fruit that brings assurance.