Sunday, May 28, 2017

The practice of fellowship, 1 John 3:4-10

When you hear someone speak of a doctor’s office, they often refer to it as a place where the physician practices medicine.  And we understand what that means, don’t we?  It doesn’t  mean that the doctor is practicing medicine as a means of learning medicine.  None of us would trust our health to someone who wasn’t already a doctor, but was just someone who was practicing to be a doctor.  We understand that it means a doctor is practicing what he has already been trained to do.  He practices what he is. The dictionary defines practice as the exercise of profession.  I like that.

The application of practice to the church is that there are many that have professed to be Christian, but in practice, it is evident that they are not. The Apostle John, in essence says that very thing in verse 4, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” On the other side of the coin, the Apostle John says that the one who is truly saved, practices righteousness.  Look at vs.7, “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.”  

The distinction is plain.  Those who are sinners, practice sin, and those who are righteous, practice righteousness.  John is offering us a moral test of fellowship with God. If we are truly a child of God, if we are truly born of God, then we will exhibit God’s character, which is righteousness.  If we are not truly born of God, then we are born of the devil, as he says in vs.8. “the one who practices sin is of the devil.” 

Now that may sound like a harsh judgement, but John says that the children of God and the children of the devil are made quite obvious by their deeds. Vs.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.”

Now that contrast should be convicting for all of us.  It shows that if our behavior does not match our profession, then our faith is suspect.  And we should examine ourselves as to whether we are truly a child of God not only by our profession, or by some past emotional experience, not only by our knowledge of doctrine, but by the evidence of our actions.  

So let’s do that this morning.  Let’s examine ourselves in the mirror of God’s word, to see if we are truly of the faith.  Because as John indicates in vs.7, it’s possible to be deceived. It’s possible to think you are going to heaven, that you are a child of God, and yet you are not.  Jesus said in Matthew 7, “by their fruit you shall know them.” In other words, you will know His disciples by the actions of their lives. Jesus went on to say in vs21, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”  There is that word again, “practice.”  If you practice lawlessness, you are a sinner.  

John defines sin as lawlessness.  Vs.4, “sin is lawlessness.”  Sin is simply rebellion against God’s law.  He is not speaking necessarily of just the 10 commandments.  He is speaking of the will of God.  The plan of God, the word of God.  God’s word is law.  

Human nature harbors an innate rebelliousness against the law of God.  It’s natural.  It’s common to all of us.  Romans 3:10; “There is none righteous, no not one.”  Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  Sin is the endemic condition of the entire human race.  We all have the sin nature as the default condition of our being.  And all sin, any sin, breaks the chain of fellowship between God and man.  It’s like a chain between God and man, and the failure of only one link ruins the whole chain.

Let me try to explain something that is important to understand about the law of God.  God is not capricious.  He didn’t make a bunch of rules and regulations just to be difficult.  God is our Creator.  He made us with a divine purpose; to be like Him, and to have fellowship with Him.  That’s why He created us.  And so when we go against His design, then it’s rebellion against our Creator and against His creation.  God’s law, God’s word is the blueprint for our lives, it’s the laws by which our purpose can be fulfilled.  We were not made to live independently from Him.  But we were created to be in union with Him.  And sin has broken that union. Sin breaks fellowship with God.

Sin is lawlessness, and lawlessness is rebellion against God.  Rebellion doesn’t sound so bad, though does it?  It doesn’t sound as bad as drunkeness, or addiction or immortality.  Most of us would agree those are sins.  But rebellion? Is it really so bad? Well, consider what God has to say about rebellion in 1 Samuel 15:23, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD.”  God says rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.  And stubbornness is as the sin of idolatry.  That sounds pretty serious to me.

On that subject of idolatry, I read an interesting quote from RC Sproul the other day which says the following; “A god who is all love, all grace, all mercy, but no sovereignty, no justice, no holiness, and no wrath, is an idol.”  Listen, God is not revealed in your imagination, but God is revealed in His Word.  Be careful what you believe about God.  Otherwise you may find yourself worshipping an idol of your own imagination, rather than the God of scripture.  John says that Jesus is righteous, in vs 7.  Righteous doesn’t just mean someone who does good, but it means holy, sinless, loving justice, doing the will of God, keeping the commandments of God.  

So our condition is sinful, hopeless, separated from God who wants to be in fellowship with us but cannot because He cannot abide with sin.  But John says in vs.5, that Jesus, the Righteous Holy One of God,  manifested Himself to the world to take away sin.  He came to restore fellowship with God, to reconcile us to God. John says He was able to do that, because in Him was no sin.  He was sinless.  He was as John the Baptist said, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Now how does Jesus take away sins?  Well, first of all He took away sins by removing the penalty of sin.  And He did that by substitutionary atonement. That’s a $10 theological term that means He was God, He was sinless, and He took our sins upon Himself and paid the penalty for sin.  Only God could atone for the sins of the world.  And only His righteousness could outweigh the sins of the world.

To that end, Jesus paid the penalty for sin by dying on the cross.  For those who believe and trust in Him as their Savior and Lord, His atonement redeems you from the penalty of sin.  But not only does He take away the penalty, but He breaks the power of sin.  And I think this is more the point of John makes here in this section.  He is not just talking about  past sins, but the present practice of sin.  So Jesus came to take away the power of sin.  Paul said in Romans 6:14 that sin will no longer master you.  Sin no longer has control of you.  When a person is born again, they give themselves as servants to a new master.  That’s what the title “Lord” means.  Master, Sovereign, Lord.  We are now controlled by the Spirit of God.  No longer under the master of sin. We serve Christ.

One day, He will come again in the clouds, and He will make all things new, a new heaven and new earth.  And we will be given new bodies which are incorruptible.  In that day, God will take away the third aspect of sin; the presence of sin.  There will be no more sin, and consequently, no more death.  But now we still live in the present, the penalty of sin has been removed, and the power of sin has been broken.  It no longer controls those who have been born again.

So how does that work practically?  How is the power of sin taken away in your life?  Look at  vs.6, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.”  So if you know Christ, and abide in Him, then you will not sin.  Abide has the same meaning as fellowship.  If you know Christ as your Savior, and you abide in fellowship with Him, you will not sin.  That is the secret to being set free from the power of sin.  You abide in Christ.   When we abide in Him we do not sin.  When we break fellowship with Him we sin.  Sin breaks fellowship with Him.  We must abide in Him, commune with Him, live in Him, and He in me.  We do so practically by reading His word, meditating on His word, and obeying His word.  We do so practically by being in a constant state of prayer.  Abiding in Him is constant communication with Him.  Confessing, agreeing with God, that our sin is lawlessness.  It is grieving to the Lord.  Confessing and repenting so that it is  forgiven and fellowship remains unbroken.  

Maybe the idea of abiding is one that needs explanation.  It means that we recognize that we are His, that He is in us, and that He is with us.  And so knowing that He is with us, we do not want to sin, to bring shame upon Him.  An illustration of that is in my natural state I like to speed when I drive.  I don’t naturally like driving the speed limit.  But going the speed limit gets a lot easier when I see a Highway Patrol car tailgating me while going down the freeway.  I have no trouble staying in the speed limit when they are around.  So it is with our walk.  We may not always feel like being obedient, being loving, being faithful.  But if we really believe that He is right here with us, watching us, it becomes a lot easier doesn’t it?  I guess the problem is that we don’t really believe He is with us.  But He is.  And He is not there to bash us over the head with a baseball bat when we step out of line, but He is there to encourage us, to strengthen us and help us.  And if we fall anyway, He is right there to pick us up and wash us off and help us get back on our way.

Now verse 6 needs some further explanation, because it says that “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.”  Yet John said in chapter 1 vs 8 that “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  So that sounds like John is contradicting himself.  But the original language makes a distinction that isn’t readily apparent in English.  In English, there are three tenses, past, present and future.  But in the original language there were more than three tenses.  What this tense that John uses indicates is a present and habitually continuing action. John is speaking of a settled, continual sin. It’s a lifestyle of sin.

As 1John 1:8 indicates, we all sin occasionally.  But there has been a change of nature in those people who have been born again. We now have a new nature, a new guiding principle of life.  We have new desires, what the Bible describes a new heart.  This is what is meant by being born again.  God describes this conversion in  Ezekiel 36:26 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”  Now to one who has this change of heart, he no longer continues in sin, no longer takes pleasure in lawlessness, but his desire is to do the will of God. So imputed righteousness results in practical righteousness. What’s inside comes out.

This is the secret of salvation. Being born anew. Having a new heart.  It is not mustering up the willpower to be a better person, to go to church, to try to stop doing bad things.  That’s simply willpower.  But inwardly you are still a sinner, and though you may try to be good, it can never be good enough to meet the standard of God’s righteousness.  But when you by faith accept the righteousness of Jesus Christ in exchange for your sins, and you receive a new heart, and a new spirit within you, now you are truly changed on the inside.  And what is on the inside will work it’s way out externally in the way you behave.  So as we examine ourselves in light of God’s word, we must ask ourselves if we have been born again?  If there is evidence of a change of heart, evidence of the Spirit of God working in us that which is pleasing to Him.

Now John reaffirms this by saying that God is righteous, and if we are born of God, then we will be righteous. Vs.7, “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.”  Listen, it is possible to be deceived, as I warned you earlier.  There are a whole host of false prophets on television and in churches today that never talk about sin, that will not classify anything as sinful, and that basically tell you that you can live anyway you want and God will still love you just as you are.  But that is not the God of the Bible. That’s an idol. The God of the Bible is righteous, holy and true and there is no unrighteousness in Him.  If you have been born of Him, then you will practice righteousness, because He is righteous and you have received His righteousness in you. There is going to be an outward expression of what is transpired inwardly.  And that is expressed in doing God’s will. That’s what righteousness is; doing the will of God.  It’s the opposite of lawlessness.

So the contrast to righteousness is lawlessness.  If you are born of God, then you will practice righteousness.  But if you are practicing lawlessness, John says you are born of the devil. Vs.8, “the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning.”  Jesus said to the Jews in John 8:44 “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” 

How do you know a child of the devil? Just as a Christian will exhibit the character of Christ, an unbeliever will exhibit the character of Satan.  He has the same nature as the devil.  He has submitted his will to the devil.  He is controlled by the theology of the world.  I’m not talking about demon possession.  I’m talking about rejecting the word of God for a lie of Satan.  I’m talking about rebelling against the will of God and doing your own will.  Being hateful, selfish, lying, cheating, immoral, etc, all which are the works of darkness. 

The good news is though that according to the last half of vs 8, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”  Notice how vs8 is an elaboration of vs.5, “He appeared in order to take away sins.”  And now John says, He appeared to destroy the works of the devil.  There is a progression there.  His intercessory work has made it possible for us to overcome the evil one.  We are able to destroy the power of sin through the abiding presence of the Spirit of God in us.  John will go on to say in  1John 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.”  

I want to tell you some good news, which is the gospel.  If you truly give your heart to the Lord and are born again, sin shall no longer have dominion over you.  You that are addicted to drugs, you can be set free.  You can destroy the works of Satan.  You that are living a life ravaged by alcohol, God can free you from it and restore your life.  You that have been suffering from pornography, or from hatred, or jealousy or from stealing or immorality, or any sin, no matter how grievous it may be, Christ has appeared to break the power of sin in your life.  You can be set free, to live a new life in Christ.  Christ came to destroy the works of the devil and set you free.  The work of the devil is to make sin a snare which will capture you and destroy you.  But Christ can destroy  sin’s power, if you will come to Him and ask Him to save you.  Many of us here today are a living testimony to the power of God to set one free from sin.  Many of us lived lives previously in addiction, in immorality, in rebellion towards God and were trapped in our sin, destroying our lives, and we stand here today set free by the death of Jesus Christ and faith in Him. We are not perfect yet, but we have been set free from the power of sin.  And you can be as well. 

If you will be born again, you can be set free.  John says in the next verse, 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.”  When you are born again, the Spirit of God abides in you.  The tenses here in this verse are the same as the previous verses.  You cannot live in habitual sin.  Jesus will break that habit.  He will change your heart.  He will transform you into a child of God and no longer will you be a child of the devil.  Consequently, like father like son.  As God is righteous, we practice righteousness.  

This seed of God abiding in us is authored by the Holy Spirit, and it is the Word of God.  1 Peter 1:23 “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.”  You cannot separate the work of the Holy Spirit from the word of God.  Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth.  He implants the word of God in our hearts, which produces the fruit of righteousness.  James says it this way in James 1:18 “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.”

The obvious conclusion then to John’s argument in this section comes in vs.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.”  Well, that’s the test of our relationship with God.  Do we practice righteousness?  Do we love our brother?  Do we love God by being obedient to His will?  John says it’s obvious to others what the condition of your heart is.  But even if you are skillful at hiding your sin from others, God knows your heart.  He knows those that are His children. Not those that are religious.  Not those that are good people on some superficial level or another.  But those that have been born again by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and have a changed heart and a new nature.  

I trust that you will examine yourself today and honestly look at the evidence for your salvation.  Don’t leave your eternal destiny to chance.  Don’t continue to waste this life being mired in the muck and mud of sin, which will destroy you.  Christ came to deliver us from sin, and destroy the works of the devil.  You can know that freedom and forgiveness in Christ today if you will just call on Him in faith and confess that you are a sinner and need to be changed.  He will save you.  He will not turn away from your call if you call upon Him today.  Do it today.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The origin and outcome of our fellowship, 1 John 3:1-3

As we pick up again where we left off in our study of 1 John this week, it’s important that we are reminded who John is writing to.  And he tells us in   1John 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.”  So he is writing to Christians, that they might have the encouragement and assurance of their salvation and sure hope of eternal life.

And in that context, we should look back at vs.29 of the last chapter, and read that the evidence of our salvation is that we are born again.  2:29, “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.”

How are you made righteous? We are not saved  by our righteousness; Titus 3:4 “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” So we are born again by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, as we receive Christ by faith.  1John 5:1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.  We are made righteous by faith.  Whoever believes in Him is born again by the Holy Spirit.  By faith, our sins are transferred to Christ, and His righteousness is transferred to us. Then being made righteous by faith, our righteous acts are evidence of being righteous within.  We practice what we have become.  

Born again is one of those phrases that has fallen out of fashion in religious circles.  It’s more fashionable to talk about accepting Jesus, or loving Jesus, or believing in Jesus and that’s ok, but the phrase born again is a Biblical phrase.  Jesus told Nicodemus that you must be born again. That is, you must receive a new nature.  Your old nature is inherently sinful.  In your natural state you cannot be righteous.  You cannot please God.  Your attempts at righteousness cannot outweigh your sin.  

The problem with religion today is that it attempts to make light of your sin.  But I am here to tell you that the only way to be born again, is to realize how desperately sinful you are.  Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  That means, we all have fallen short of the righteous standard of God.  It’s as if the breadth of the ocean represents the distance between sinful man and God.  And we all were to line up on the beach and take a running start, then jump as far as we could, to see who could get to the other side.  Some may jump further than others, but I can assure you, no one will jump across to the other side.  We all fall short in the same way of achieving the righteousness that God requires.  The only one who is able to bridge that gap is the Lord Jesus Christ.  He did for us, what we can never do. And only by faith in what He has done for us, are we able to be saved.  The key to a transformed life is to realize how desperately lost you are, and  appeal to God for forgiveness and a new life through Him. We must not merely settle for adding some religion to our lives, but we need a complete overhaul, a transformation, to be born anew.

Now when we are born again by the Holy Spirit, we receive a new nature.  We receive the Spirit of God, we take on the nature of God, as we are  taught by His word. So that we have new desires, what is called a new heart. This process is described in  Ezekiel 36:25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”

That new desire is what John is speaking of as the characteristic of being born again in 1John 2:29, “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.”  So when we are made righteous, when we are born again, then we practice righteousness, because we know Him, and we love Him, and we want to please Him.  We want to keep His word. John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”   1John 2:3 “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.”

Only by being born again by the Spirit of God can we truly come to know Him, and come to love Him.   Rom 8:14, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”

This being born again as God’s children, this inheritance, this fellowship we have with God our Father, is what causes John to burst out in wonder and joy; “See,” he says, or “behold, how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” Literally, the verse says, “what kind of love the Father has bestowed, or lavished upon us, that we would be called the children of God.”  John says, “Behold! what manner of love is this? What do we make of this kind of love that God has towards us?  What an amazing love.  It was undeserved love.  We were unlovely. We were sinners.  We were enemies of God.  Paul says in Ephesians 2:1, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”

The love of the Father was not a reciprocated love.  In other words, we didn’t love God first, and then when He saw how wonderful and deserving we were, He then loved us back.  No, God loved us while we were yet sinners, and sent Christ to die for us.

The answer to what kind of love it is then, is that it is a supernatural love.  It is divine love.  It is sacrificial love.  It is all those things and more.  It is amazing love, because by it He did not just forgive us of our sins, and give us eternal life.  That in of itself is amazing that God would so love His enemies.  But that He went even further, to the uttermost degree; He made us His children.  And if children, then heirs of God.   Romans 8:16, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”  

Let me try to illustrate this love. Last week a man took our dog.  He kept it for several days before we figured out who it was.  When he finally brought her back Maggie’s eye was swollen and infected very badly.  The man said we should take her to the vet and he would pay for it.  The short end of it was he did not pay for it, and it cost us $150. So now he has stolen what wasn’t his, injured it, and defrauded us and lied to us.  Now I had to force myself to try to forgive this man, even though he didn’t ask for forgiveness.  I’m not sure that I was really able to do that.  But imagine if I not only forgave him, but I invited him over to dinner at my house.  Then imagine that I made him a part of my family.  And imagine that I even gave this man an inheritance along with my children.  You might think that I was insane to give so much to someone who had done so much to injure me.  But that is exactly the kind of love that God has for us.  We had stolen from Him, we wounded His Son,  we defrauded Him and lied to Him again and again.  And yet God forgave us, invited us to fellowship with Him, adopted us into His family, and gave us an inheritance with Christ.  

That means that we have access to the Creator of the Universe, the Almighty God, as our Heavenly Father.  The kind of intimacy and access that only a child can have with his father is what is bestowed upon us.  And note that word bestowed.  It means gifted, given, lavished upon us, without any merit of our own, or without our earning it in any way.  It is a gift of grace, when we did not deserve it.  We have become the children of God.

Then John adds, “and such we are.”  MartinLuther was once asked, "Do you feel you are a child of God this morning?" He said, "I cannot say that I do, but I know I am." Well, that's a good Christian attitude. That is our feelings are subordinated to the word of God. Our experience does not alter theology. Our theology alters experience. So, "we are," John says, and we are. But John says, though they see that we are different, the world does not recognize us, because they did not recognize Him. Vs.1, “For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.”

The world cannot recognize spiritual things.  Thus they cannot recognize us, even as they did not recognize the visitation of the Holy One of God.  1Cor. 2:14, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”  If you would understand the spiritual, then you must first be born of the Spirit.  Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”  So God is the initiator of our salvation.  He first loved us.  He sought us when we were yet sinners, when we were lost, He found us and called us to Him and gave us life.  But those who are not born again are spiritually blind and dead in their trespasses.

So our present state is we are the children of God.  But there is an intermittent state in the life of a Christian as well, which John has already alluded to in chapter 2.  It is what we are becoming. My mother used to says something like that: “you are what you have been becoming.”   Let’s skip vs.2 for the moment and look at vs. 3, “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”  The intermittent state is the process of purification.  It’s the process of sanctification.  Where we become conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

This is the middle phase of our salvation.  We are justified by faith in the first phase, sanctified in the truth in the second, and glorified in the future with Christ.  Justification, sanctification, and glorification; the 3 phases of salvation.  We have already talked about justification by faith.  Now John tells us we are to be purified, or sanctified as a result of being born of God.  We are told in the word of God, that there is a constant sanctifying influence going on upon us. As we look in the mirror of the word of God, we are constantly being changed and conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.  2Cor. 3:18 “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

The purpose of sanctification then is to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ.  As He is righteous, we practice righteousness.  As He is pure, we purify ourselves. As He was conformed to the Father’s will, so we are to be conformed to His will.  As He was a light to the world, so we are to be lights on a hill, reflecting Jesus Christ to the world through our actions.

Let me tell you something; sanctification is simply spiritual maturity.  As we grow in the Lord, we grow more like our Father.  We are characterized by the nature of our Father.  There is a stage of infancy, when we are born again.  Then there is a process of maturing, as we grow up into the fullness of Christ.  Paul spoke of this in Eph 4:11-15, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,  for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;  until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.  As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;  but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.”

So how do we purify yourselves?  Well, James says it is to keep yourself unstained by the world.   James 1:21 “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”  The word of God will keep you pure, if you are a doer of the word.  Lot’s of people know some of the word of God.  They love to cherry pick the Bible and use it as a means of exercising their freedom to sin.  But those who are pure in heart are those who keep the word.

The last stage of our salvation is glorification.  When we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.  Vs.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.”

There are a couple of things John is possibly referring to in this verse.  First of all, notice he says we are now the children of God.  That is already.  We already have the spiritual new birth, the new life, the eternal life of God.  We will never die.  We will be with God forever.  We are His children, and nothing can snatch us out of the Father’s hand.  That is a present reality, and it is a future certainty.  

But we are also going to be changed.  Paul says in  1Cor. 15:51, “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.”  Paul says it’s mystery.  He doesn’t know how to describe this new glorified body which we will be given.  John says here in our text that “we do not yet know what we shall be.”  What we do know is this new body will be a heavenly body.  It will be a spiritual body.  It has no sin.  It will not have any of the effects of sin which produce death or sickness.  It will live forever.  

But then John tells us something even better.  This new body will be like the body of Jesus. “We will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”  We will be like Him.  In Genesis, we were made man and woman, in the likeness of God.  But in the new creation, we are made children of God, co inheritors with Christ, made like Christ, to rule and reign on thrones with Christ.  In the first creation God said it was good.  In the new creation, God said “eye has not seen, AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.”  We can’t imagine the glory that will be ours.

In the old creation, the Bible says that man cannot look at God.  In the new creation, John says we shall see Him as He is.  Let me tell you something.  The transfiguration was just a glimpse of the glory of Christ, when the light shone through His countenance and His clothing.  In the new creation all of heaven will be illuminated by His countenance.  Rev. 22:3-5  “There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him;  they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.  And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.”

There is a theological term we have talked about before that speaks of this illumination.  It is called the beatific vision.  It speaks of the aspect of our eternal glorification, when we see Jesus face to face, not in His humanness, but in the fullness of HIs Divinity. The Bible teaches that God "dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has even seen or can see" (1 Timothy 6:16), but when God reveals Himself to us in heaven we will then see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12).[7] This concept has been termed "the beatific vision of God" by theologians.

The treasure of heaven is not so much a place of gold and palaces and crowns and so forth, but it is the presence of God.  It is when we are immersed in the physical, spiritual, all encompassing source of light and life.  When we are in the presence of Holiness, Righteousness.  When we are one with God, and He with us.  When we are joined with Him in a way that can only be described by our limited minds as a consummation of our relationship with Christ as His bride.  This is what theologians call the beatific vision.  It is the all consuming, all encompassing light of God that gives us a life abundant, a life eternal, that cannot be quantified. And we shall be like HIM, for we shall see Him as He is. That is the glory of heaven.  And that is what we have as our inheritance.  To dwell in unapproachable, life giving  light, the source of life, the source of all knowledge and wisdom, and to be able to do so because we are like Him and to share with Him all that He has.

Well, this is our inheritance.  This is our hope.  This is what Christ died on the cross to procure for us. Our fellowship with God now, and our glorification with God in eternity.  I hope that this glimpse into the hope of heaven is a means of encouraging you as you are conformed into the image of Christ.  Sometimes this process of sanctification is not entirely painless.  Sometimes God has to chip away the dross to reveal the gold.  But it will be worth it all, when we see Jesus.  

Some of you here today though may be saying, I’m not sure that I qualify for this inheritance.  I can’t say that I have been born again.  I don’t see the evidence of the new life in the Spirit you were talking about.  I would invite you today to receive the atonement of Jesus Christ for your sins today.  It is a free gift of God, to all who call upon Him in repentance of their sins, and faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior.  God loves you, and He has made it possible for you to be reconciled to Him.  Call on Him today.  Today is the acceptable day of salvation.  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The perseverance of fellowship, 1 John 2:18-29

As we have learned so far in our study of 1 John, the Apostle John has been teaching us about the nature and essentiality of fellowship.  That God did not send Jesus to die on the cross just to save us from hell, but to woo us to intimacy, fellowship, and communion with the living God.  And so to this point we have studied the basis of fellowship, which is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  And then we saw the proof and progress of fellowship, then the evidence of fellowship, and the process of fellowship, which is maturity.

Along the way, we noted that John gave us a series of tests, so that we might ascertain whether or not we were in fellowship.  There was a moral test; if we are in fellowship with God we will keep His commandments.  There was the social test; if we are in fellowship with God we will love one another.  Now today we are looking at the doctrinal test; if we are in fellowship with God we will be united in certain essential doctrines.  And negatively, if we are not in fellowship with God we will reject certain doctrinal truths.

John wants to  make something clear.  That truth is incompatible with  false teaching.  Truth and a lie cannot coexist.  Light cannot coexist with darkness.  There is sound doctrine, and there is false teaching.  There is right, and there is wrong.  There is no such thing as relevant truth. That is an oxymoron.  Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

You know, I buried my mother this last Thursday.  And I had an opportunity to say some things at her funeral to honor her memory.  And if I might add something today, being Mother’s Day, I would say that my Mom wasn’t perfect, but she did teach us kids right from wrong.  If there was anything that she did well, it was to teach us right from wrong.   In her mind, there was a right way to do something and a wrong way. There was the right way to make your bed or fold your clothes. There was the right way to iron a shirt. These were things that she knew were true and she wanted to pass them on to us. There was no middle ground. And in the same way she taught us that the Bible was unconditionally true. She taught us that correct doctrine mattered.  Truth mattered. And to some extent,  as she grew older perhaps she grew disconsolate about continuing on in this world, because the things that she had known to be true did not seem to be what the world considered true any more.  And so she no longer felt at home in this world and wanted to go on to the next.  She wanted to be where righteousness reigns.  Where wrongs will be made right.  But even though she is gone, the truth that she taught her children remains, because it was founded on the truth of God’s word. And in like manner, truth is essential to fellowship with God.  The scripture says, “let God be true, though every man a liar.”  If we would have fellowship with God, if we would worship God, it must be in truth.

So John presents three characteristics of false fellowship, and three characteristics of true fellowship. Let’s look first of all at the three characteristics of false fellowship.  As an intro to this section, John says it’s the last hour.  Now that may be as surprising to hear for you as it might have been for the church he was contemporaneously writing to.  We all have this idea that the last days, or the last hour is still somewhere in the future.  But it’s interesting, that this same writer wrote the book of Revelation, which most believe is all future events of the last days.  And yet he writes sometime probably before Revelation that it was already the last hour.  The last hour then refers to an age, and we are in the last age.  It started with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it will culminate in His return.  But John was living in the last age, and we are living in the last age.  It is the last hour.

The evidence that he gives for that pronouncement is that “just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.”  So they already had heard that the antichrist was to come.  And John says that already many antichrists had come.  And from that they could recognize that they were in the last hour.

There are many popular theories out there, supported by Hollywood style movies, which present the antichrist as some sort of charismatic world figure that perhaps has already been born and who is going to head up a one world government.  But what John seems to be saying is that the antichrist is many people, who are imbued with the same spirit; the spirit of antichrist.  

The term antichrist simply refers to one who is not only against Christ, but one who is another Christ.  He has another gospel.  Another way.  Another truth, so called. It’s a false teacher, or someone who seeks to influence others to another gospel. In chapter 4, John tells us to test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false spirits have gone into the world.  And then he continues in vs.2, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 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.”  Confess by the way does not just mean saying the name of Jesus.  To confess means to agree with.  So what John is saying is that person who does not agree with the gospel of Jesus Christ, the word of Christ, then that person has the spirit of antichrist.  And  they are already at work in the world.  They are already deceiving men and women.  And they are in the church.  More on that later.

So the first characteristic of these antichrists is that he says they departed from fellowship.  All the things we have been talking about which constitute fellowship with God; keeping God’s commandments, loving one another, abiding in the truth, they have abandoned those things in favor of another gospel.  They have opted for an easy believism that is more culturally palatable.  Look at vs.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.”  

I have found that it’s very seldom that as a church we would have to break fellowship with someone because of false belief.  It usually works out that they leave us.  And though the reasons they give sound plausible on the surface, the bottom line I think is that they cannot stand sound doctrine.  They don’t really like preaching and teaching the whole counsel of the gospel. They like to camp out on certain themes, but discard others that don’t fit into their lifestyle.  But I decided some time ago that I would preach the truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.  And I would not patronize people for the purpose of gaining popularity.  The truth is incompatible with a lie, and so they eventually can’t stand it any more and they leave. 

But what John is saying is don’t be dismayed by that; they were never really part of us.  They were never really in fellowship with Christ, and so they will not be in fellowship with us. Don’t worry about it.  God wants us to proclaim the truth without compromise.  A lot of people confuse friendship with fellowship. Truth is foundational to fellowship, not friendship.  Friendship with the world, James says in chapter 4vs4, is hostility towards God.  So we aren’t to be as much concerned about friendship as we are about truth. When we are united in truth, then friendship, and even better - love, will follow.

Secondly, the next characteristic of antichrists is they denied the faith. Vs.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. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.”  So these antichrists have denied the faith, which is to deny God. On the contrary, he says the true disciple confesses (again, that’s agreeing with) Christ. Now let’s consider what it means to deny the faith.

Romans 14:3 says, “whatever is not of faith is sin.”  What Paul means there is when you consider what you can see and feel and measure as more credible than faith in what is not seen, faith in what God has said, then that is sinful.  These antichrists deny the faith by living according to the flesh.  They are carnal.  Theologians have debated whether you can have such a thing as carnal Christians.  I say you can.  Paul accused the Christians at Corinth of being carnal.  To be carnal is to be fleshly; it’s to be worldly, to use an old fashioned word.  That was a word my mother used a lot.  I used to hate it.  Every thing fun I wanted to do as a kid seemed to fall under that category of being worldly.  But there are some things that are worldly.

To deny the faith is a progressive falling away from the faith.  You depart from fellowship with God, and that person eventually ends up denying the essential doctrines of the faith.  It’s the progression from carnality to apostasy.  Just as there is a progression in sanctification to maturity, which we talked about last week, there is a progression the other way as well.  You go from bad to worse.  From a little sin, to full blown corruption.  From a little lie to apostasy.  Eventually denying the essential doctrines of faith. 

Thirdly, he says the characteristic of antichrists is they deceive the church.   Back in verse 26, "These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you." They are in  the church, but they are not truly in the fellowship.  But as they devolve into apostasy, there is a desire on their part to deceive others as well.  

They aren’t happy to come into the church just to sit there in private and quiet denial. Their desire for validation means that they try to deceive others to participate in their rebellion. In Matthew 13, there is the parable of the tares and the wheat.  And Jesus says in verse 26, "They are sown by the enemy in the field."  The enemy comes and sows tares in the field. That was a very devastating thing to do to your enemy if your enemy sowed wheat, and you had some men go in the middle of the night and sow weeds, tares in the ground alongside the wheat. The farmer would be watching his crop and when it finally came up, he would see the tares coming up along with his crop and the tares would destroy the entire crop. That was done in ancient times to destroy an enemy's income, wealth, well-being. And that's exactly what the enemy Satan does, he sends his false teachers in the church, alongside the furrows where God has planted the true seed and he sows deceivers. Satan is the deceiver and this is the trade that he plies through his antichrists. They come into the church, they go into seminaries, they go into colleges, they go into denominational headquarters, they go into church staffs, they go in as elders and leaders in the church. They often ascend to the leadership of the church and sometimes they come into the church even as the pastor, as a wolf in sheep's clothing, the false shepherd. These are the antichrists who deceive.  And Jesus said in the parable, that at first the tares and the wheat look very similar so that you can’t tell them apart.

In 2 Peter chapter 2:1, Peter says, "False prophets arose among the people in the past, among the people of Israel, just as there will also be false teachers among you."   Note the important phrase; among the people,  among you.  These antichrists come from the church ranks.  The greatest danger to the church is not the world’s agenda.  It’s not the liberal left wing radicals.  It’s often the smug, sanctimonious antichrists masquerading as elders or deacons or pastors in the church itself. 

Now let’s move from the negative to the positive.  John also presents three characteristics of true disciples.  And notice that he calls them children in vs.1.  This title refers to the fact that they have been born again by the Spirit of Christ.  They are a child of God.  And like children of every generation and family, they share the characteristics of their parents.  That’s how you know someone’s children.  They look like their parents.  They share the same DNA.  Well, as the children of God, we share the same Spirit.  That’s how we can have fellowship with one another.  

The first characteristic John presents is that they are not deceived.  Verse 20, "You have an anointing from the Holy One and you all know. 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." Verse 27, "You have no need for anyone to teach you because His anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie, and just as it is taught you, you abide in Him." So how can you tell a true Christian from an antichrist? A true Christian is not deceived. They may have doubt from time to time, they may question, they may even be temporarily led astray, but a true believer will not abandon the truth.  

How do they know the truth?  Well, they know the truth because they have the Spirit of Truth indwelling in them.  That is the purpose of the Holy Spirit, ladies and gentlemen.  The Holy Spirit isn’t given to give you a spiritual buzz.  The Holy Spirit is given that you might know the truth. “You have an anointing from the Holy One and you all know.”  Who is the Holy One? Well it's Christ.  Jesus is the Holy One of God." And Jesus has gone to the Father so that He might send His Spirit to us that are saved. 1 Corinthians 12:13  says that we've all received the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:9 says, "If any man has not the Spirit, he is not Christ's." So if you are Christ's, you possess the Holy Spirit. That is the anointing. It’s not a second blessing.  It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation.  He is given to guide us into all truth.  In John 16:13, Jesus says, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”  So He speaks the word of Christ.  Not some new revelation, but He reveals the expressed Word of God through the Bible to God’s children. 

 And that is how we are not deceived.  When we continually yield to the Spirit’s leading and conviction.  But when we reject His leading, then we quench the Spirit, and that moves us into rebellion, which is the road to apostasy.  But John says, the true believer, who has the anointing of Christ, will not be deceived if they have the Spirit of Christ operating in their life.

Secondly, the next characteristic of a child of God flows from the first, since they have the Spirit, they are not deceived, so they accept the faith.  They hold fast to the doctrines once given to the saints.  They have discernment.  They can recognize truth from falsehood.  The Holy Spirit in us is our teacher. Through His presence in us and through His inspired Word, the things of God are revealed to us. "We have not received,” it says in 1 Corinthians 2:12, “the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God that we might know the things freely given to us by God." The Spirit then is ours as our teacher and as the author of the Scripture.

At the end of verse 21 John makes this statement. He says, "I have not written to you because you don't know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie is of the truth." In other words, something cannot be at the same time true and false. And he says, "I'm writing to you because you know the truth, and because you know the truth you reject lies. You have spiritual discernment.” 

Let me tell you how that happens - discernment comes by careful study of the whole counsel of God.  When you study the whole Bible, then a false teaching is not going to fit.  It’s going to stand out.  I had a great discussion with my son Roy yesterday about spiritual discernment. And he made a statement which I thought was good, I hadn’t heard it before.  He said, and I paraphrase, “spiritual discernment is not just judging between right and wrong, but judging between truth and almost truth.”  And that’s very true.  Satan doesn’t often come with an outright lie, but he comes with a half truth, disguised as truth.  But as in setting a course to sail across the ocean in a ship by compass, a little thing such as one degree off course will take you far from your destination.  But completely yielding to the Spirit as you study the word will keep you in the faith.  You will not stray from the truth as long as you yield completely to the Spirit’s conviction as you study the word.  Don’t go into it with an agenda.  Let the Lord reveal His truth to you so that you may rightly divide the word of truth. 

Finally, one last characteristic of a true child of God is that they remain in fellowship. They abide, they remain faithful. V27 John says, "The anointing which you've received from Him," that is the Holy Spirit from Christ, "abides in you. You have no need for anyone to teach you, His anointing teaches you about all things, is true and not a lie. And just as it is taught you, you abide in Him." So because the Spirit abides in you, you abide in Him. You stay faithful to the truth. You are not deceived. You accept the faith and you remain faithful.

To abide means to have fellowship with God.  That’s the goal of our salvation.  To have unbroken, unbridled fellowship with God.  That we might have the joy of communion with God.  That we might know God intimately, even as we are known. That there are no secrets we keep from God.  That we share everything with the Lord, and He shares all good things with us.  

If we have that kind of fellowship, then we will not fear that He is coming soon,  since it’s the last hour.  So John says, “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.”  I remember as a very small child laying on the floor of the living room so I could meet my dad when he came home late at night.  I loved him so much and looked forward so much to seeing him that I would beg mom to let me sleep on the floor in front of the front door.  

But as I got older, and into more trouble, I used to try to duck out when my dad came home.  I knew I had done things that he wasn’t going to be happy about.  So I would try to pretend I was already asleep in bed and hope he wouldn’t want to wake me up. John says, if we abide in fellowship with Him, we won’t be ashamed when Jesus comes.  

And he reminds us how to make sure of that.  Vs 29, “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.”  If we are HIs children, and we know that He is righteous, then we know we are His children because we practice righteousness.  That’s the fruit of our lives; righteousness.  That’s the evidence of our salvation.  That we are truly disciples of Him, that we are in fellowship with Him.  We love Him, so we keep His commandments.  And because we love Him, we abide in Him, and He abides in us and we have perfect fellowship.  We persevere in our faith.  It isn’t always easy.  It’s fraught with trials and temptations.  But the joy of fellowship with God, of knowing He is our Father, and we are His children in a right relationship with Him, is worth it all. 

 I trust that you have come to know God through a relationship with Jesus Christ and an anointing of the Holy Spirit.  And I pray you will stay and abide in fellowship with Him, for it is the last hour, and there are many antichrists in this world, but our Redeemer draweth nigh.  Let us not shrink bank when He appears, but may we be righteous, even as He is righteous.