I don’t know if this is safe or not, being that I am in the company of men I deeply regard for their holiness and intellect. But I am going to begin this message by talking about professional wrestling.
I’m sure that you’ve all seen the old episodes (even if you are too ashamed to admit it!). I caught some shows as a kid. It seemed that they had a template that they followed for every show (and a crude one at that).
You would have one of the superstar wrestlers going up against a twerp of a fellow. The no name wrestler was obviously a prop. You knew that just by looking at him. But that would never stop him from making a show of himself. When his name was announced, he would flaunt himself and act like the heavens had just trumpeted the arrival of one of the gods.
You know the routine too. As soon as the bell rang, he would spring out from his corner and immediately be pummeled by his opponent.
I have you recall that silly little episode because it so clearly illustrates what is in the passage before us this morning. If we could size up the passage we might say that in this corner we have the a towering figure. He is Lord Jesus Christ and the truth he has revealed in the Scriptures. And in this corner we have the challenger. We will call him Man-Thought. He is a twerp of a fellow by comparison, but he’s whooping it up.
In our passage here this morning the Lord wants to solidify this image in our minds. He wants us to see the Divine smack down he gives to every philosophy that exalts itself against him. He wants us to see that every philosophy that is contrary to Christ—every worldview that is built apart from the fear of God, will fail.
We often don’t see things this way. From our perspective man centered thinking often seems rather alluring. We are often tempted to conform to the wisdom of the world and not base our thoughts fully on the grounds of Scripture. But the Lord wants to remind us that we shouldn’t do that. He wants us to remember that Man-Thought has absolutely no way of winning. As a matter of fact, Man-Thought gets pummeled quite easily. It is evident in the first verse that we read.
I. Man’s wisdom is foiled by God [19-20]
Verse 19 we see how God foils man’s wisdom. Paul pulls out this awesome quote from the book of Isaiah. It says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Those of you who are of my generation may remember the old Scooby Doo cartoon. Do you remember how every episode ended? It never failed that at the end they would catch the bad guy and they would pull off the mask and reveal who the culprit was. One of the last things you heard was the evildoer saying something, “I would have gotten away with it if you kids hadn’t gotten in the way.” Scooby Doo and his gang were always thwarting the bad guy’s plans. Every scheme and every evil plan was foiled by Scooby Doo and his gang.
Well, that’s exactly what this passage says. Man’s wisdom is no match for God. It doesn’t matter how erudite he may be or how crafty he is, or how slick his plans are. God is sovereign over the affairs of the world and he enters history to demolish man’s wisdom.
That’s why Paul can go on in verse 20 to say, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” Paul is saying here that there is no one who can stand up against God. Every sage, every guru, every college professor or therapist whose worldview is built on humanistic principles better watch out. God will run their wisdom right into the ground.
Just look at any of the ideas that have come from the popes of the professional world. Standing on this side of 2-3 hundred years of humanism, we have a good view of how it has been run into the ground. How about the world of education? It’s no secret that it is plummeting. Even the secular world will tell you that it is in a tailspin. Studies say that are descending to 3rd world levels in Math and Science. A friend of mine who is in an education program said that the first thing his professor said was that the education system is broken.
Well, there’s no wonder. Our education system was fostered by guys like Jean Jacques Roussea and John Dewey—two of the most godless men we can think of. Rouseau abandoned his 5 children on the doorstep of an orphanage, and he’s the guy we look to as an expert on the education of children.
There shouldn’t be any surprises here. Even if you didn’t have the testimony of Scripture that you have here, that should be a no brainer.
But we could look at any other area and see the same results. Follow the intellectual footsteps of Karl Marx. See the paths of blood it takes you through and the ruin it eventually comes to. See the spoils of Thomas Malthus and the other acclaimed philosophers of our time.
As the passage clearly states: The humanistic mind will be thwarted. God will foil any knowledge man postulates apart from the fear of God. Even though man’s wisdom props itself up as something intellectual and grand, eventually it will become nothing other than an intellectual ruins, pointing to the all consuming power of God.
But when it comes to man’s wisdom, you will notice that God not only foils it, he frustrates it too.
II. God frustrates it [21-25]
The ironic thing is that they are frustrated because they find God to be both elusive and repulsive. Look at verse 21. It says, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom.”
Let me say that again, “The world did not know God through wisdom!” The funny thing about this worldly wisdom is that even though it is a system of thought that has rejected God, it is trying to find God. Yet, for all its work, it can’t. God keeps eluding them. Despite having all this wisdom and despite being so intelligent, they can’t find the one thing they seek the most.
Have you ever played that game Marco Polo? We used to play that at the pool all the time when I was a kid. The person who was “it” had to close their eyes and try to tag the others in the pool. What he would do though, is call out, “Marco!” Then the others would have to call out, “Polo!” to give him an idea of where they are so that he could go tag them.
But what would always happen is that someone would begin to toy with the person who was “it.” He would stand right beside the person who was it. The person who was it would call out, “Marco!” And he would be right in front of them saying, “Polo!” But he was just out of the guy’s reach. And just before he would lunge for the person they would turn to the side to elude them. And that would happen again and again. That kid was just out to frustrate the guy who was it.
Well, that is exactly what happens to those who try to build their worldview without God as their starting point. God says, “I’m going to frustrate you and show you just how foolish you are!” So they are every looking around, but never finding God.
Think about it. Every time they look into a telescope or peer into a microscope, people gaze right into the handiwork of God. They get an extreme close-up on God’s creation. And they pick and probe and theorize and hypothesize, but they never come close to capturing the real knowledge their hearts are really craving. God just keeps leading them along. He keeps letting them be wise in their own eyes. But he won’t let himself be found by their foolish contemplations.
But the elusiveness of God is not the only frustrating thing to them. They are frustrated by God’s repulsiveness too.
You will notice that God does not accommodate himself to their erudition. Verse 22 says that Jews seek signs and Gentiles seek wisdom, but what do we have to offer? We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to gentiles. They find Christ to be absolutely repulsive. They don’t want anything to do with him. They don’t want anything to do with his salvation. And they certainly don’t want anything to do with his base means of salvation.
A while back I came to the story of Naaman. Here is a good illustration of a guy who thought the means of salvation were just downright reprehensible. He was a prestigious Syrian general, but he came down with a case of leprosy. And he went to Elijah to be healed, and the prophet told him to take a couple of dips in the Jordan River. How did Naaman react? He was outraged! He said, “Surely I thought he would come out and wave his hand over the spot.” You know, a little razzle dazzle and hocus pocus. And then he was mad because he had to go to the Jordan River, a body of water that wasn’t the cleanest of places.
But that’s the way men are. They want God to be packaged in just the right way: Their way! But God doesn’t do that. He comes in the form of a lowly servant and he comes bearing a heavy cross. He comes through the baseness of a preacher. Its just too much for them to take! Those who are inflated in their pride will only be repulsed by it.
And their intellectual acumen will just make them more and more frustrated.
But there is another thing that God does to Mr. Worldly Wiseman. God not only foils his prized wisdom. He not only frustrates it. He also degrades it.
III. God disgraces it [26-31]
In verse 26 Paul points out that the Corinthians were a lowly bunch. They were not wise by the world’s standards. Neither were they powerful or of prestigious linage. But verse 27 says, “God chose the foolish things in the world to shame the wise. He chose the weak to shame the strong. He chose the lowly and despised so that he could humiliate the high and the mighty.”
This is just like something you would see on an ESPN highlight film!
Perhaps you remember the dunk by Kevin Johnson on the towering Hakeem Olajuwon. Here was a guy who was just about my size. Olajuwon stands to what looks like twice his size on the film. Johnson drove baseline and does a monster dunk right on the giant. Hakeem got baptized with by this little guy.
And they never tired of playing that clip over and over. It was bad enough that this little guy just humiliated him like that. But Hakeem was shamed again and again as they replayed the clip again and again. This time in slow motion. This time in real time. Analyze the footwork. Look at it from this angle, how about from this angle. Over and over he was degraded on national television.
That’s exactly what Paul’s talking about here. Man in his wisdom thinks he is so great. He prances around like he is something so grand and worthy of praise. But God chooses these unseemly people. And he uses this seemingly stupid bunch of Christians to make a complete mockery of man’s wisdom.
From how often it occurs in Scripture, it almost sounds like God likes degrading his enemies like this. It is almost like he keeps playing the highlight clip over and over. Back in the OT, in Psalm 8, it says, “Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.” How humiliating is that! Here’s the headline on the front page: Lowly baby wards off the violence of the mighty avenger. (*snicker!)
And who did God use to change the world? Who were the ones that he made to be his ambassadors? A bunch of unsophisticated fisherman! And you may remember that story in the book of Acts where Peter and John are standing in front of all the religious leaders. What a sight. Here are the wisest men in all the land—the ivy league of the scholastics of the time. They were all sitting around in their robes which made them just ooze with sophistication. And yet, this bunch of scribes, lawyers and religious scholars couldn’t answer them a word. It had to be the most humiliating, the most degrading moment of their lives.
And that is exactly what God likes to do. He likes to make a mockery out of the lofty things in the world with the very things that the world deems foolish.
I like what Paul then goes on to say in verse 29. He gives us the reason why the Lord does this. He says, “that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” Then verse 31 says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
One of the most humiliating things is having to say, “You were right.” Better yet, when a boxing match is done you know what they always do? They always make the two contestants come out and stand in front of everyone. Then the referee raises the victor’s hand. And the loser has to stand there in front of everyone. He not only has to face the humiliation of defeat, but he has to acknowledge that the other is the victor and deserves all the glory.
That’s exactly what God does in the gospel. He disgraces man’s wisdom by silencing every lip. And, at the very same time, he makes abundantly obvious to all the world that Christ alone is where true wisdom is to be found.
With all that is said here regarding the fate of man’s wisdom, I hope you find great comfort.
I know that you are looked down upon in today’s society. And your are there in the trenches of the battle against the humanistic spirit of the age.
As the world runs faster and faster after the foolishness of human philosophy, you can bet you are going to be treated with more and more contempt. You are going to face those situations where you’ll say something to the effect of, “Well, that’s because the Bible says…” and the person will look at you with eyebrows raised and a silly smirk on their face as if to say, “Oh, you are one of those!”
But just remember that they are the fools and it will only be a matter of time until their foolishness is foiled and completely disgraced.
In the meantime we must do our best to hold fast to Christ and his word.
[The above message was delivered at the meeting of the Ohio Presbytery.]
In our passage today, John wants to make sure we are sure. John is beginning his conclusion. He’s beginning to wrap up his epistle, and he wants to end it by making sure that we are sure. And that is why he uses this language of “testimony.”
Our brother Craig was called upon to give his testimony last week. He had to undergo a deposition and, if you ever have to do that, what you do is give your testimony. The lawyers are looking for your witness account on such things so that they can make their case.
That’s what John is doing here. He’s got one last chance to make his case. So he is spelling out the testimony he has concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. And again, his testimony is to make you sure that you are sure.
So we are going to look at his testimony this morning so that we can be sure we are sure. And I want you to notice three things regarding this testimony. First, the content or the substance of the testimony. Then, the veracity or the believability of the testimony, and then the purpose of the testimony.
Let’s begin with the substance of his testimony.
I. The substance of the testimony: Christ has two natures [6a].
In the first part of verse 6 he says, “This is he who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.”
To what is it that John wants to testify? Well, it’s this fact that Jesus came by both water and blood.
Now, there are perhaps a thousand different views of what this means. I’ll give you the three main ones. One interpretation is that the water and blood refer to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. You can see how those fit together; the water of baptism and the communion cup present a good analogy.
Another view is that John is referring to what he said in his gospel account. You remember that when Jesus was crucified he was pierced with a sword right through his side. They wanted to make sure that he died before the Sabbath, so they pierced him right through the ribs. And John records that a flow of water and blood came running down because of the puncture. Some people think that John’s words here refer to that event.
Another view is that the water and blood refer to two events in Christ’s life; his baptism and sacrifice. So this point of view says that John is emphasizing two big days in Jesus’ earthly life. Commentators give some reasons why there might be particular credence to this view. I’ll spare you that though. The point is, in this view, is that Jesus was really alive in human form and has some concrete events to which we can point to show it.
Now for the moment for which you all have been waiting! Which is the right view? Which of these do I believe is the right one? If you want to know which view I take, I’m sorry that I’m going to have to disappoint you. I really don’t know. I really don’t know if we can tell with precision what exactly John is talking about.
I can tell you this though: John is most definitely making sure that we know that Jesus was not just divine, but that he was most certainly a man too. I believe that John is emphasizing the two natures of Christ, specifically his human nature. Jesus came by the water and blood, not just the water, but also the blood. Whatever it might be referring to, the point is that Jesus was fleshy.
John’s audience was most likely struggling with an early heresy called Gnosticism. Gnosticism typically downplayed the physical dimension and stressed the spiritual and mystical. So they were making Jesus out to be a super spiritual entity that had little or no human element. And John wanted to make sure they knew that he most certainly had a human nature, as well as a divine one.
There is a tendency among men to gravitate to one or the other: the human or the divine. Typically in our day people tend toward the human element. But there are some who tip the other way. Some like to stress the mystical and the supernatural.
Islam is one such religion that does this. They don’t necessarily believe that Jesus was divine. But they do recognize him as a great prophet. He was a holy man. And since he was so spiritually inclined, they can’t fathom that Jesus was really crucified. They actually say that Jesus was taken up to heaven before his crucifixion. They believe that God put another person in his place.
Then there are people who eradicate Jesus altogether. They make it a mystical experience. They say things like “you have to release the Christ in you. You have to realize your Christ potential.” There is a sort of Eastern mysticism tone to it where Christ isn’t so much one who came to earth, but he is this thing you become.
Wherever you find people placing an emphasis on spiritual and mystical elements of religion, you will find that they downplay the historical and physical elements of Christ. The whole crucifixion thing typically gets lost too. Really, that’s one of the first things to go because that whole crucifixion thing seems a little too icky. It is too fleshy and physical.
But John says, “Make no mistake.” Jesus did come and he did have a real human nature, just like ours. And he did in fact die upon the cross. He shed a lot of blood, and his body was laid in a tomb. John wants to make that clear. That is the substance of his testimony.
Now, you can hear people of John’s day, can’t you? Here are the super spiritual people. You can just see them turning up their noses and saying, “There goes crazy Uncle John again—talking about that crucifixion stuff!”
So John needs to take his testimony to the next level. He needs to drive his point home. So in the next portion of the text—you might say the main portion of his testimony—verifies his argument.
II. The veracity of the testimony [6b-10]
How do we know that what he said is true? What’s going to make his argument believable to these super spiritually minded people? Well, how about talking about the Holy Spirit?
Look at what he says in the middle of verse 6, “The Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 9 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.”
John’s saying, “You want to get spiritual? I’ll get spiritual with you. God himself has given this testimony. You don’t believe me? Then you do not believe the Holy Spirit who is right now testifying to these things! If you doubt me, you are doubting the Holy Spirit!” And you can kind of hear John saying, “Now how spiritual is that?”
But it is true. The Spirit does testify to the reality that Jesus came in the flesh and died on the cross for our sins. Where? You ask. It’s in the Scripture. It is in the gospel accounts. Certainly these people would have heard those stories which had been in wide circulation by this time. Perhaps they had even read the gospel John had written. We don’t know that for sure, but it is possible. The fact is, the Spirit was the one who had written the Scripture. The word of God was divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit.
That’s why John can then go on to say what he says in verse 10. “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.”
If you believe the Gospel accounts, then the Spirit who wrote them is living in you. You not only have the objective witness of the Bible, but you have the internal witness of the Spirit right in your own heart.
And John says, “If you don’t believe them, well then, you are calling God a liar. God said he wrote it, but you are denying it. You are essentially saying that he didn’t. So you are pointing your finger at God and saying, “You are not telling the truth!”
That’s a pretty good argument for spiritual people. John really takes them to task. You think you are spiritual? You are denying the Spirit’s testimony and you are calling God a liar! What kind of spiritual person does that?
You know, one of the greatest sins we have is thinking that we are smarter than God. When we fail to simply take the Scripture at face value and come up with something we think is better, we are trying to be smarter than God. That’s downright foolish. Don’t do that. Don’t call God a liar. Just accept what he clearly has laid down in his word.
That’s what John is telling these people to do. Don’t try to be so pious. Don’t try to go beyond the Spirit of God. Just take what the Bible says at face value. When you do that, then you really are being spiritually minded.
Now, if you look in verses 11-12, you’ll find out why John is so fired up about all this.
III. The purpose of the testimony: Eternal life
Read with me verse 11. “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
John’s purpose is quite clear isn’t it? He wants you to be clear on this; he gives you this testimony because he doesn’t want you to miss out on eternal life. He is so adamant about this because the consequences are so great! It is the difference between heaven and hell.
This is important because it emphasizes how necessary it is to believe in the right Jesus. John is showing us the importance of doctrinal accuracy, specifically when it comes to the person of Jesus.
This is why the early church took such great pains to hammer out the specifics regarding Jesus’ deity and humanity. They understood what John is saying here. They understood that if we get it wrong, the future will not be very pleasant. And that is why, after formulating the creeds that we have now, they said, “If anyone does not hold to this, let them be anathema.” That is to say, they are condemned. The framers of the creeds made no bones about it.
Now, we live in a day that is radically different. Ours is a day where we downplay doctrinal differences. Everyone just wants to hug and get along. And I’ve even heard people say that it really doesn’t matter what you believe, just as long as you are sincere. People will say, “It doesn’t matter if you are a Mormon or a Catholic or a Buddist, as long as you are sincere.” They think that’s what God really looks at.
But as you see here, that’s not true. John says that you can be sincere about the wrong things and go to hell. The only way to keep that from happening is to embrace Jesus Christ as he is offered to you in the gospel. If you don’t have this Jesus, then there is no hope for you.
I believe I’ve mentioned before how I love it when the cults come to my door. My parents will tell you how excited I get. They live across the street from me and they can always tell when they come. They say that the pitch and the volume of my voice increase—they can just tell I’m excited.
It’s true. I love it. Those of you who have played sports know what it’s like before you run out on the court or hit the field. You just feel it jumping inside of you. That’s the way I feel when I hear that doorbell ring and I see a white shirt through the window.
The other day some Mormons were walking down the street towards me. I don’t know if they saw me or not, but they turned down another road! I almost ran after them!
It’s true. I love to engage in that conversation. But that is not what made me want to run after them. It was more because I know that they have the wrong Jesus. And because they do, they do not have eternal life.
I might not have been able to talk to those Mormons. But I can talk to you. You must receive and rest upon the Christ that John describes here. He is the only one who is able to give you life. Listen to his testimony and
He who has him, has life.
Some have even said that 1976 was the year of the Born Again Christian. And ever since the term “born again” has been bandied about quite a bit. The thing is that virtually anyone can call themselves a born again Christian now.
I once was speaking with a lady and she made the remark that she wasn’t just any Christian, but she was a distinct kind of Christian. She was a “born again” Christian. The fact that she was living with her boyfriend at the time did not make any difference whatsoever. She was adamant about the fact that she was a born again Christian.
As of late, certain things have come to light regarding Jimmy Carter. He has recently broken with the Southern Baptist denomination because of their stance on what may be deemed certain “conservative social issues.” What’s more he is on record as supporting same sex marriage.
With the liberal use of the word today, it might be good to come back to the original sources and discuss what makes for a born again Christian.
That’s essentially what John does in the passage that is before us today. It may very well be that the people of his day were making much use of this “born again thing.” You may remember that John had written about it in the third his gospel. He tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. There you remember that Jesus told Nicodemus that he “must be born again.”
It may be that people latched onto the whole notion and were running around calling themselves born again Christians, when in reality they were not.
Whatever the case may be, in this passage John gives us some definition to the whole notion. He indicates how we can tell if we are truly born again or not. He lays out three basic truths that we can use to determine if someone is really and truly born again.
To determine if someone is truly born again the first thing you must ask yourself is if you have a Christian’s convictions.
I. Does he have Christian convictions? [1a]
A born again person will be convicted that Jesus is God’s appointed Savior. Look at verse 1. John here says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.”
How will you know if you are truly born again? Well, it’s going to be your conviction that Jesus is the Messiah. You are going to believe that He was the one God sent to be the savior. And you are going to put your faith in him and no one else.
Now, young people, I want you to understand what John is saying here. He’s talking about the true conviction that Jesus is the Messiah. He’s not talking about just knowing some information about Jesus. He’s not talking about someone who simply believes that Jesus lived a long time ago. For instance, I believe in George Washington. In other words, I believe that George Washington lived some 200 years ago. And I think that some of you children may think of Jesus in the same way. Sure, you know that he existed. Yeah, you know some things about Jesus—how he was born in a manger, how he was God in the flesh, and that he was crucified and put in a tomb. You may even acknowledge the fact that he rose from the dead. But you might not really have believed in him in the sense that John is talking about here. You still might not have the personal conviction that he is your savior and Lord.
Back in 1988 there was a segment on NPR that I think really helps to illustrate what I am talking about here.
In 1958, America’s first commercial jet air service began with the flight of the Boeing 707. A month after that first flight, a traveler on a piston-engine, propeller-driven DC-6 airliner struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger. The passenger happened to be a Boeing engineer. The traveler asked the engineer about the new jet aircraft, whereupon the engineer began speaking at length about the extensive testing Boeing had done on the jet before bringing it into commercial service. He recounted Boeing’s experience with engines, from the B-17 to the B-52.
When his traveling companion asked him if he had yet flown on the new 707 jet airliner, the engineer replied, “I think I’ll wait until it’s been in service for a while.”
Now you see what I mean? Here is a man who knew jets quite well. He knew so much about them that he could talk for a long time about the intimate details of the jet. But, despite his extensive knowledge, he did not yet trust it. He had not yet put his faith in the aircraft. He did not have the conviction that this plane could really carry him to his destination.
Some of you here today may be in that very same position when it comes to your faith in Jesus Christ. Sure you may be able to describe Jesus. You might be able to talk with some enthusiasm about his divinity or the nature of his death. But you have not yet truly trusted in Jesus.
Don’t think that your knowledge alone is sufficient. It is not. Young people, the Lord does not care how much you know about Jesus. What really matters is whether or not you have personally acted on that knowledge. Have you really believed in him and accepted him as the Messiah (your Messiah)?
I want you to know that it is only this kind of person that is really born again. If you do not have this deep seated conviction, if you do not personally trust Christ and believe that he is able to bring you to your heavenly destination, then you are not born again.
And maybe this is the day you do. Perhaps right now God is speaking to you and convicting you that you need to put your faith in him. Perhaps you have known about Jesus for some time, but never actually put your faith in him. If you’ve grown up in a Christian home, that may be true. You’ve heard about him for a long time, but now you feel that Jesus is really calling you to rise to the deeper level. It is time to make that step and trust him. If you are here today and feel like you’d like to do that, then know that Christ welcomes you. He is more than happy to be yours, and he promises that he will take you to heaven to be with him.
If that’s something you are convicted about today, I want you to talk to your parents about it. I want you to let them know that you took that step today. It’s a big moment in your life, and they need to know about it.
Let it be understood though, that this is what makes for a true Christian. To be a born again man you first need to ask yourself if you have faith in Christ. Do you have the conviction a Christian must have? But you should not only examine your convictions, but you should examine your connections.
II. Does he have Christian connections? [1b]
Look at the next part of the verse. Verse 1 goes on to say, “Everyone who loves the father loves whoever has been born of him.”
He’s talking about what naturally happens to a Christian. He says, “Someone who loves God is going to love other people who love the Lord.” Once you’ve become a child of God, you are going to associate with the rest of the family on a regular basis. Your connection to God is going to be verified by his connection to the rest of the family of God.
Do you understand what I’m talking about here? We’ve talked a lot about loving the brethren over the last few weeks. But I want you to understand what I’m trying to communicate here.
We have a lot of people out there who claim to be Christians, but they spend very little time with other people that are Christians. They have no real, vital connection with a local church or to the Christian community in general. Sure they will mingle with the Christians from time to time. They will talk about how much they love God. But they do not have a real bond with the church.
But think about it: To love someone or something, means that you spend a significant time with them. How do you know that I love my children? It’s going to be by how much time I spend with them. I can talk with my neighbors about how much I love them, but if they rarely ever see me outside playing with them then they should have cause to doubt my words.
You know what, I love ice cream. Do you want to know how I can tell that I love it? It is because I keep coming back to it again and again. I just seem like I can’t get away from it. As a matter of fact, I am happy to report that I have had ice cream almost every single day this week.
My love for it is shown by the time I spend with it.
We used to have neighbors with whom we were very much concerned. From time to time we worried about the state of their marriage. That’s because we rarely ever saw them together. He hardly ever seemed to be home. We’d often see him going out with his friends in the evening. Or we’d hear how he had been gone all weekend on a special trip with the boys. And on those rare occasions when we did see him at home, we never saw him with her. When he was around she wasn’t. She was off somewhere doing something.
We could have been wrong. But from our perspective, they didn’t seem to have much of a marriage. And it was because it didn’t seem like they had much of a connection with each other.
And that is how a lot of people are who claim to be Christians. They don’t spend a lot of time with the church. They rather sit at home and watch TV than get together for Bible study. When it comes to getting up and going to worship, it’s a bit of a chore for them. Their too tired; they’ve stayed up all night playing video games or chatting with their friends. And because their attendance is so spotty, you have to wonder if they really do love the brethren.
Now, I understand that there can be certain providences that prevent one from attending church or getting out to Bible studies. I just want you to think about your connection to the church though. Do you really have a yearning for Christian fellowship? Do you naturally associate with the body of Christ? Can you say that it is priority in your life?
James says that friendship with the world is enmity with God. And he’s saying there what John is saying here. What you love will be proven by how much time you devote to them.
I will tell you that this is one of the main reasons Elizabeth and I have always practiced morning and evening worship on Sunday’s. Some people think we are crazy because we do church twice in one day. We’ve actually had people tell us, in so many words, that they think that’s a bit overboard.
Yes, it is true, we want solid worship. We want good teaching. But what we really love about evening worship is the chance to be among the people of God. Even if the preaching is shoddy, it’s not that big of a deal in comparison to having the chance to fellowship with other believers.
I’m not saying that the ultimate test of one’s Christianity is how many times they go to church on Sunday. I’m simply trying to reiterate something of what John says here. Your connection to the church will tell you something of your connection to the Lord. And if you are not devoting a lot of time to the fellowship, then your love for the brethren ought to be questioned. And if your love for the brethren is not running all that deep, then you may want to question your love for the Lord. Because as John says here, the two are interconnected.
If you are born again, then you will have the conviction of a Christian; and you will have the connections of a Christian; and, as John goes on to say, you will have the compliance of a Christian.
III. Does he demonstrate Christian compliance? [2-5]
In verses 2-5 John talks about the law of God and the believer’s devotion to it. Look at verse 2. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.”
Do you see how compliant a Christian is? If you love God, you keep his commandments. How do you know you love God? You keep his commandments. You don’t object. You don’t make a big fuss over it. You willingly and happily comply with whatever he asks you to do.
This is what should make us doubt the validity of Jimmy Carter’s profession of faith. Yes, he might have called himself a born again Christian, but he doesn’t affirm certain things God has clearly said in his word.
A true Christian will not begrudge marriage as God defines it. He will delight himself in it. He will delight himself in all of God’s law.
That’s what makes the rest of verse three so amazing. It says, “His commandments are not burdensome.” The Christian says with the Psalmist, “O how I love your law!”
Sure, the law can really get us down sometimes. When you study the commandments, you see your sin a lot more clearly. It really drives you to Christ. But ultimately, you don’t think that these commandments are a kill joy. You don’t see them as restrictive and oppressive. They are a joy to you. Instead of being burdensome, you find it to be a delight. You might not comply to the degree that you want to because of your sin, but you wish you could.
And there is a sense in which you do comply because you’ve overcome the world. That’s what he talks about in verses 4 and 5. You’ve overcome the world. You have victory over those things that have kept you from obeying the in the past. Now that you have been born again, there is a new freedom that you experience. Obedience becomes much easier and even enjoyable.
Roy Matthison has a very good illustration of this compliance in his commentary on this passage. He gives the illustration of two women. Both women are equal in most every respect. Both women are married and have the same number of children. Both women have the same amount of work to do in a day and pretty much have the same responsibilities at home. The difference lies in their attitude towards their chores. The first woman finds her duties a chore. When she does not like the fact that she has to prepare the meals each day and play with the kids. It is a burden to her that there are dishes to do and laundry to wash.
The other woman has a different attitude. Yes, it is laborious work at times. But it isn’t as much of a burden to her. She doesn’t mind that she has to get supper ready. She enjoys playing with the kids. And when it comes to the laundry is done with a more cheerful attitude.
When you consider which of these ladies loves her husband, the answer is rather obvious, isn’t it? The first lady does her work, but her heart really isn’t in it. And it’s likely that her heart isn’t all that warm to her husband either. The compliance of the second woman indicates something of her love for him. She finds the work a joy because she loves her husband and wants to serve him.
The same holds true for the Christian. The work God gives may be difficult at times, but it will not be a chore.
And we have to ask, which of these two ladies represents you? When it comes to the law of God, do you find it a burden? Is it something that repulses you? When the law of God tells you to honor your parents or love the brethren, do you find that to be a cumbersome thing?
Or do you delight in the law of the Lord?
Maybe the illustration of the two women hits a little too close to home for you. Maybe you are one who is convicted that you don’t do your chores with a good attitude. And now you are saying, “Ok, I’ll try to delight in the laundry.” But you are saying it with a curmudgeon’s heart.
Others of you might be saying, “You’re right. I do need to change my attitude toward that mountain of dirty clothes.” And as you say that, there is a spirit within you that really embraces it. You know it is going to be a challenge, but there is sense in which its not just something you need to do, but it’s something you want to do.
That would be a good indication that you are truly born of God. It is exactly the attitude of the righteous man in Psalm 1. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
The one who has been born of God demonstrates a joyful compliance to what the Lord has commanded in his word.
I entitled this sermon, “The born again Christian uncovered.” It is because this passage helps us discover the real marks of a born again believer. John does nothing other than strip away the masks of false Christianity.
At my house we often like to play hide and seek. And sometimes my daughters like to pull one over on me. They will tuck their pillows down on their beds and cover them up with blankets so that it looks like a person laying under there. So when I come up, I tear the covers back only to expose a bunch of pillows.
That is exactly what John does in this passage. He pulls back the layers of in order to expose what lies beneath.
If you are here today and what you have found is nothing other than a true born again believer, praise God! Praise God that he has given you that firm assurance upon which you may stand.
But if you are here and you have found nothing but pillows (nothing but a false belief and imagined Christianity), then let this be the day that you are truly born again. Let this be your first birthday. You must be born again. And if you feel the Lord’s hand upon you, do not refuse it. Receive and rest upon Christ today. He offers you peace and forgiveness. Though all your days up ‘til now have been that of ignorance and false belief, today you can have salvation through faith in Him.
For the last couple of months all it seems like we do is talk about the guy to my left.
I wouldn’t doubt that some of you are starting to think that we’ve lost our focus; church is not as spiritually inclined as it used to be. It seems like things have gotten a little too man centered for your liking, and maybe its time to start thinking about finding a place that’s not so “worldly.”
It is true. Liberals love this epistle. It really fits well into their playbook. As we’ve said before, this epistle is very much the book of love. And liberals love to quote some of these passages, “God is love!” “We have to love one another.” And we will sing, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”
And, on the opposite extreme, some people who go by the name Christian—people who might label themselves “conservative Christians”—they can get a little queasy with this book. They want more preaching on Jesus. They want to hear more about Christ. They have had enough of this love your neighbor thing and they want to hear more sermons on true devotion to Christ.
Well, if that’s your attitude, you should be unsettled. As a matter of fact, really tears into that kind of mentality in this passage. We like to harp on the liberals—you know, the people who make too much of the horizontal aspect of the faith and they don’t put any focus on the vertical—our relationship with God. But we need to beware that there is a false piety that is just as wicked. To make the vertical the central focus, to the neglect of the horizontal, is just as wrongheaded.
In this passage John writes to show us what true piety looks like. He wants us to focus our attention on that horizontal aspect of the faith and understand that Christianity is very much a practical religion.
We see as much there in verse 20. He wants us to get our minds out of this mystical world that we can get caught up in; where it is all lovey dovey on God.
I. True piety is not a bunch of religious blather.
Look at what he says in verse 20. He uses rather strong language. “If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar.”
Now the word liar there is where we get our word “pseudo.” You’ve heard of a pseudonym. That’s someone who uses a fake name. He’s lying about his true identity. Well, John says there are pseudo Christians out there. There are people who think they are Christians, but, in all reality, they’re not. They are mistaken about their true identity.
And the reason they are mistaken is because they do not evidence any real love the brethren. They’re religion is all hype. They may seem like very pious people because of how much they talk about God, but in all reality they are not all that pious. Theirs is a false piety because there are no social or moral implications to their faith.
John wants to dispels this notion that you can have a love for God apart from loving your brethren.
Now, again, liberalism is a damnable heresy. And you know that liberalism is associated with the social gospel. It stresses the love of man to the neglect of any true love for God. Essentially it becomes all horizontal in its orientation and has no vertical element.
But John’s saying here that the exact opposite is just as heretical. If our religion is all vertical and has no horizontal implications, you’ve made an equally heinous mistake. John says, I don’t care how wrapped up in God you are. If you do not evidence any practical love for the brethren, you are not a Christian! You are a liar.
I fear for some people today. They are all caught up in their supposed love for God. They sing their praise songs at the top of their lungs. They can raise their hands and demonstrate an exuberance in their worship unlike anyone else, but they are all vertical. You can see them having a radical mystical experience with God. But they continue to be are some of the most irritable and impatient people.
You know, I used to run in Pentacostal circles. I got burned out on the liberal, mainline churches that had nothing to do with God. I used to sit in a mainline church and just try to count the number of times they just mentioned the word God. I would actually put notches on my bulletin when I heard them just say the word. I didn’t even care if it was Allah that they mentioned, I was just listening for any vague reference to the divine. And there were some services that I never even heard the word.
So I left that church, and I was really drawn to the Pentecostal churches. I spent a lot of time there because they loved to talk about spiritual things. Their services were rocking. There were times where they were so caught up in the worship and praise of God that they said, “You know what, the Spirit is really moving here. So let’s just skip the message and continue to focus our attention on His praise.” And I loved it. I loved that these people loved God and were truly adamant about setting their minds on the things of the Lord.
Later I became a bit disenfranchised with that. It was almost like I had gone way off in the opposite direction from my mainline church. I began to find that there was very little in the way of focus on the commandments of God. There a huge emphasis on speaking in tongues and these radical mystical experiences, but people’s lives were not changing all that much.
I continue to look back on those years as beneficial. I still have a great affection for my Pentecostal friends because of that zeal for the Lord that they have. But I recognize now that a lot of that was a false piety because there was no weight given to the social and moral side of the faith.
And before you go looking down at those Pentecostals, don’t think that we Reformed types are all that different. We tend to favor this kind of thing too. The thing about Reformed people is that we like to focus on God, right. That’s what Reformed theology does. It gets back to putting the god-ness in God. It puts God at the center of the faith and it emphasizes his sovereignty and his majesty.
So, like the Pentecostals, we get caught up in grand expressions of devotion to God. We just like to be a little more geeky about it all. That’s even the thing, we make the faith into this cerebral affair, as if Christianity consisted of a bunch of intellectual propositions. And what we end up doing is that we talking a lot about God. We’ll wax eloquently on the nature of the Trinity. We’ll expound the intricacies of the two natures of Christ. We’ll look like we are super Christians because we love to talk about the Transcendental argument and the intellectual preconditions of intelligibility.
And while such things might be nice, such things may be true, we have to remember that this is not the sole focus of the faith. It is not even the primary focus of the faith. If that is the way we are, then we’ve missed the whole point of Reformed theology—we’ve missed what John says, “for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
I will tell you, I don’t care how many Christian songs you have on your ipod. It doesn’t matter how many Together for the Gospel conferences you go to. You might read every single blog that is posted on the Gospel Coalition’s website. Whoop-t-do! If you are not loving the brethren, then you might as well be looking at porn because God does not take pleasure in it.
As John shows us here, our love for God cannot be divorced from real, tangible acts of love for our brethren.
You must understand this: Christianity does not consist of a bunch of pious sounding, holy hype. John is very clear about that. Instead, he says, ours is a religion of proactive service.
I. It is a religion of proactive service
That’s exactly what we find in verse 21. You’ll notice that he says things there in a more positive light. He clarifies what true piety when he says, “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
Friends, I am not pleased with an esoteric religion. We will have failed in our duty before God if we neglect the parts of Scripture that talk about our duty towards one another. We will have grieved God to no end if we give no thought to the needs of those around us and we are not actively seeking to meet those needs.
And really that gets at the heart of what love really is. You know, one of the sources I looked at this week really helped to put things in perspective. He said that we usually think of hatred as the opposite of love. But that’s not true. Hatred is not the opposite of love, hatred is the absence of love.
You don’t have to do anything to hate someone. We think that hating someone means fire-bombing their house or calling someone a bad name. But that’s not hatred in the biblical sense. Hatred, in the Biblical sense, can be just standing there and doing nothing at all.
“Whoever loves God, must also love his brother.” When he talks about loving the brother, he’s talking about doing something on their behalf. He means actively seeking his welfare.
This is exactly what Jesus meant. Ok, you want to get spiritual and talk about Jesus. Let’s do that for a minute. Let’s talk about what Jesus said. Jesus gave us the Golden Rule. And what is that? Did he say, “Don’t do to others as we wouldn’t have done to us?” Absolutely not. He said, “DO to others as you would have done to you.” He stated it in the positive, which means he wanted us to be proactive.
“Don’t do to others” gives you more leeway, doesn’t it? You are allowed to stand by and just leave other people alone. As long as you are not interfering with their lives, you are Ok. But that’s not what Jesus said. He said, “DO to others.” His intent was that we do interfere with people’s lives.
You remember the context of Jesus words. There in Matthew 7, where this Golden Rule is mentioned, it’s actually in the context of his discourse on prayer! He’s just said, if you need anything, pray about it. Your Father in heaven will not give you a scorpion if you need bread. He stands ready to help. And the very next words are, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Perhaps the context even means that the Lord’s bounty will be supplied through you. From my perspective Jesus is saying, that your proactive service will be the means by which those prayers are fulfilled.
I might even suggest that this be a way you tweak the way you pray for people. When you get an email through the church list asking you to pray for someone in particular in this congregation, don’t just say a quick prayer for them. Yes, ask the Lord to help them. But along with that prayer ask the Lord if there is anything you can do to assist in the matter.
Don’t get me wrong, its good to pray for them. And given their circumstances, you may not be able to help beyond a simple prayer to God. That’s fine. But there may be times that the Lord shows you something more you can do. You might think of a tangible way that you personally can help.
All in all, in praying this way, you will at least begin to avoid the pitfall of simply “being spiritual.” And you can really begin to show your love for God in the way in which He desires.
Legend has it that the Apostle John lived well into his 90’s. It is said that in those later years of life he was so feeble that he had to be carried to church each Lord’s Day. But that did not deter him from continuing to speak. They say that upon arrival he would always declare one message: “Little children, love one another.” When he was asked why this was the only thing he ever said, he would respond by saying, “After you have done this, you have done all.”
We don’t know if that story is true, but based on what we have seen here in this epistle we certainly would not be surprised if it were. That legend most certainly affirms what he says right here.
And we must take it to heart. The vertical aspect of our faith will never mean anything to God if it does not have this horizontal affirmation. It is only after we have done this, that we have done all.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.