Present Hope, Future Victory – The Epistles of John

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2 ESV)

Having considered John’s three epistles separately, we close our expositions in this series with a unifying summary of 1, 2, and 3 John. While each section of each epistle contains different emphases, all three letters share some commonalities: the same setting, the same applications, and the same hope.

1, 2, and 3 John are all written to first-century believers who were ransacked by apostasy. John writes from the heart of a pastor, giving these believers ways to recognize false believers while leading them to assurance of their own salvation. In addition, he exhorts them how to interact with those who deny the faith.

In each letter, John also stresses the same application – walk in the truth and love one another. Love and obedience are so central to John’s letters that these two characteristics are used to reveal whether an individual truly as eternal life or not.

Finally, the cord of hope winds through each epistle. This hope is found only in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Despite the difficulties of apostasy and false teaching, John’s audience has every reason to have hope because Jesus has defeated Satan, the light has overcome the darkness, and faith overcomes the world!

The theme of Christ’s triumph is something the Apostle John stresses in all his writings, including the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation. Perhaps this inspired insight is what kept John from a depressed countenance and gave him a positive outlook. To be sure, John recognizes – as we should – the despair of apostasy and difficulty, but he does not let these things sway him from the hopeful expectation of the future triumph of Christ. It is precisely this triumph that serves as the grounds of why we love one another, why we walk in truth, and why we have hope and assurance in the midst of trials.

As we ourselves bemoan our current cultural and ecclesial climates, we can be prone to doubts, fears, and anxiety. John’s inspired message is timeless. We serve a Lord who has defeated the very powers of darkness behind these attacks. He has triumphed over the grave and will ultimately triumph in glory. We look to that triumph to press on. Even more encouraging, perhaps, is that while we are waiting with hope for this final triumph, we have present hope right here and now because our Lord is indeed present with us, giving us victories every day.

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We Know that We are from God – 1 John 5:16-21

“We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19 ESV)

Next Sunday, we will conclude our time in the First Epistle of John. In the end of chapter 5 (verses 16-21), John reemphasizes themes that he highlighted elsewhere in his letter, including sin and righteousness, God and the evil one, and eternal life. In all these things, the context of the epistle aids our grasp of these elemental truths and their dire importance: John is writing to a church ransacked by apostasy; the people are questioning the faith and whether they belong to God. Once again, we must keep in mind that First John was written to grant assurance to Christians who are straddling the edge of doubt and despair.

Toward this end, John conveys three “we know” statements for encouragement: “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning” (v18a), “we know that we are from God” (v19a), and “we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding” (v20a). In a world full of lies, it is vital for the believer to be reminded of these absolute truths.

It is true that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (v19b). John, of course, does not deny God’s sovereignty by making this statement. Rather, he is making a sharp distinction: we are from God whereas the world places itself under Satan’s dominion. This truth remind us of many things when all seems hopeless: 1. The world (that is, unbelievers) believes lies, sins, and hates truth because it is the world, 2. Sinners do what they do because they are under satanic power and need to be rescued, 3. We are citizens of an entirely different kingdom, with a different King, and therefore we behave differently, and 4. God is greater than the wicked one and will be vindicated.

When the actions and proclamations of the world discourage you, remember two basic truths: 1. Consider who the world is and 2. Consider who we are – we belong to God!

 

The Testimony of God – 1 John 5:6-15

“If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.” (1 John 5:9)

As we wrap up our series in the First Epistle of John, we find ourselves back where we started – chapter 5. In these final words, John emphasizes the purpose of the book – that those who believe on the Son of God may know they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). We have therefore concluded, along with a multitude of commentators and preachers, that the primary intention of John’s first epistle is to provide believers with assurance.

Recall that we have emphasized that this assurance is based on faith in Christ. The more closely we walk with Jesus, the more we will be granted a blessed confidence that we are his. To bolster our faith, God graciously gives us witnesses – trustworthy sources that point us back to Christ. In the scriptures, we learn that creation is a witness to the handiwork and attributes of God. The prophets and apostles were witnesses to God’s power. Believers are witnesses of God’s working in their lives and are called to testify to one another. The greatest of all witnesses, however, is God himself.

John says in 5:9, “if we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater.” God himself is the ultimate witness giving the ultimate testimony. In God there is no deceit, no ulterior motive, no collusion, no reason for suspicion – he is the only pure witness. Called to testify, he points us to his Son.

The main point of 1 John 5:6-15 is that believers should have confidence because God has given us his testimony, which is greater than man’s testimony, that God has given us eternal life in his Son (v11). Now,  how does God testify? Verses 6-8 contain some statements that have been more difficult to understand. We are told in verse 6 that Jesus came by water and blood. Many see this phrase as referring to his baptism and death. We will dive more deeply into the meaning behind these terms on Sunday.

God has given us his testimony, and this testimony points us to Christ. Now, given the assurance that comes with receiving God’s testimony, what do we do? One of the blessings of this confidence is that we can go to God in prayer more boldly. John applies this message by concluding the section with, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” May we find greater assurance in God’s testimony of his Son.

 

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.

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!