Thursday, May 30, 2013

Making Sure (Of Your Salvation)

Benjamin Franklin said, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” I don’t think John would agree because the purpose for his writing first John was certainty. He wants you to know for certain that you have eternal life.

1st John 5:13 is the purpose statement verse, and it says:
“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”

To “know that you have eternal life” means assurance – rock solid, steadfast assurance - beyond a shadow of a doubt assurance. The way you can get that assurance has been the overriding topic of John’s book. The way is by passing certain tests.

The three tests John presented were these:
1. Correct Doctrine – believing the right stuff about Jesus.
2. Obedience – keeping the commands of God
3. The love of the brethren – the most important non-God directed commandment.

In First John chapter five, these three commands are all jumbled together into one package. They are so inter-related, so wrapped up together, that all three are necessary for assurance. But, all three are a direct product of our salvation. They are the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. They are all the result of living out our faith.

But this all leads to the natural question: “What if I fail the tests?” The conclusion John wants you to come to is this: “I’m not saved! I’m not really a believer!” But there is a solution – GET SAVED!

And the Bible tells you how: In Acts 16:30, Paul was asked: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

And the answer, from Acts 16:31 - “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” Believing is our response to God.

And that is the second reason given for writing this book. 1st John 5:13 says, “. . . . and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” But notice that the “continue to” is in italics, so it wasn’t in the original Greek text. It was added by the translators to make it say what they thought it should say. But John didn’t put it there.

What John wrote was this: “That you may believe in the name of the Son of God.” It’s the same purpose John gave for writing his Gospel.

In John 20:30-31, John wrote:
“And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

We must believe what the Scriptures tells us about Jesus. We must place our trust in Him. To do that brings eternal life. 1st John 5:1 says: “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.”

The tests were given so we could determine whether we are or are not – whether we are “born of God” or not. And if we aren’t? Well, John hopes we’ll begin believing and be saved.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Victory Over the World

1st John 5:4 is a great verse of triumph that says: For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith.

What will we overcome? “The world.” This is talking about the evil world system dominated by Satan. 1st John 5:19 says: “The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” It is under his influence, following his path. But we can overcome it, at least in our lives How? By faith! 1st John 5:5 says, “Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Think about it: The one who overcomes is the one who believes, and believing brings salvation. Ephesians 2:8 assures us, “By grace are you saved through faith.” Our new birth – our relationship with God - allows us to be over-comers. We can overcome the world. Victory can be ours.

But victory of what kind? Is it freedom from trials and tribulations? Freedom from sickness and distress? Freedom from labor and struggle? Of course not! In John 16:33, Jesus says: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Tribulation is guaranteed, but so is victory.

Romans 8:35-39 helps put it in perspective:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul apparently thought some people might worry they could be separated from the love of Christ, so he made a list of things people worry about. But his obvious expected answer is, NO! Nothing can separate us.

Oh, yes. Historically there has been a slaughter of believers. Christian blood soaked the floor of amphitheaters all across the Roman Empire as they were torn by lions, hacked by gladiators, or turned into human torches for Nero’s garden parties. And little has changed over the years as the persecution continues in communist and Muslim countries. But believers are called more than conquerors. Conquerors win, but we are more than victorious. We may lose our lives, but we gain eternity. He has that much confidence.

Paul could say, “I’ve lived through them all, and I know: Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” There are absolutely no exceptions, and especially not death. Death only transports us to heaven. It is in this life where the spiritual dangers lie, where the temptations confront us; but death is the end of harm. But even here, even when the world lays us low, we can be over-comers if we allow our trials to drive us to a closer relationship with God. That makes us more than conquerors. No matter what happens, as long as we have our love relationship with Jesus, we more than conquerors.

Let me close with this story: George Matheson, who lived in Glasgow, Scotland in the 1800’s had degenerative blindness. Yet, he worked really hard to finish seminary, and he spent his life as a beloved pastor. He also had a human love interest in his life, a girl he adored and wanted desperately to marry. But she refused to marry a blind man. But that rejection by his human love caused him to write the words of this hymn:

“O love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.”

Have you found that love relationship with God? It only comes through faith in His son, Jesus Christ, but it’s the only way you will overcome the world.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Love Makes All the Difference

John makes a rather surprising statement in 1st John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” Really? Keeping God’s commandments isn’t burdensome? Yet, surprisingly, of all of creation, everything obeys God except man - the one who should most cherish the privilege.

Psalm 148:8 says: “Fire and hail, snow and clouds; Stormy wind, fulfilling His word.” All nature obeys God, but not man. In the book of Jonah, everything obeys God except the prophet Jonah. The wind and the waves obey God’s command. The great fish obeys God’s command. In the end, even the castor plant and the worm obey God’s command. But not Jonah – at least not willingly.

Why don’t we? Could it be because we really do think the Lord’s commands are burdensome? Could it be we think He expects too much? Or maybe, that we think God just wants to rob us of our fun and fulfillment?

What foolishness! We make the same mistakes about serving God as we do about love. Kids think love is romance with its tingly feelings and butterflies in the stomach. But when the romance fades and real life takes place with bills and obligations, they quickly shed the one they previously claimed to love with all their hearts. So they leave their marriages with broken hearts and filled with disillusionment. They have bought the world’s lie.

An author one time was trying to publish love poems. “What are your poems about?” the editor asked.

“They are about love,” gushed the poet.

The editor settled back in his chair and said, “Well, read me a poem. The world could certainly use a lot more love.”

The poem she read was filled with “moons” and “Junes” and all kinds of sticky sentiment, and it was more than the editor could take.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “but you just don’t know what love is all about. It’s not moonlight and roses. It’s sitting up all night at a sick bed, or working extra hours so the kids can have new shoes. The world doesn’t need your brand of poetic love. It needs some good old fashioned practical love.” There’s lots of truth in that.

What is real love? It’s a mother changing a dirty diaper. It’s walking the floor with a sick baby. It’s a wife standing beside her husband through failure and loss. It’s the man caring for his Alzheimer stricken wife for years when she doesn’t even know who he is. It’s the mother pouring her heart out in prayer year after year for her wayward son. True love comes with the willingness to sacrifice, and the greatest human example (outside of Christ) is the love of a Mother.

But isn’t being a mother a drag? Not to the mother. To the mother, taking care of her children is a joy. Somehow, changing a dirty diaper or cleaning up vomit is different if it’s your own kid. Why? Because you love him with all your heart, so it isn’t burdensome. The same is true with serving God. Can it be hard work? Dirty work? Sometimes! But burdensome? NEVER! You get what you expect.

J. Vernon McGee tells the story of a family of settlers in a wagon pulling into a small town, and they asked a couple of old timers rocking on the porch of the general store, “What kind of town is this?”

The old timers asked, “What kind of town did you come from?”

And they said, “Oh, it was filled with friendly folks who were always ready to help. We kind of hated to leave it.”

The old timers said, “Why, that’s just like us. You’ll find this town to be the same way.”

The next day, another wagon pulled into town, and the second family asked the same question, “What kind of town is this?” And they received the same query from the old timers, “What kind of town did you come from?”

“Oh, it was terrible,” they said. “The people were all cold and unfriendly.”

The old timers shook their head, and said, “Yup, it’s just that same way here.”

Why? Because you’re still the same, and people will respond to you the same here as they did there.

It’s the same way in churches. If you come into church with a bad attitude, “Oh, they’re just going to pressure me to help in the nursery. They’re going to always ask for money. The people are all going to be stuck-up and cliquey.” Well? That’s probably exactly what you’ll find because that is what you are looking for.

But if you come in thinking, “I hope I make some good friends here. I hope I find lots of opportunities to serve.” That’s exactly what you’ll find. It depends on you. The same thing happens with serving God. Serving God isn’t burdensome, but a joy. It all depends on your heart.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Serving God is Easy Because We Love Him

When it comes to John’s tests for salvation, a person needs to pass all three since they are so intertwined. We must believe the right stuff about Jesus, we must love the brethren, and we must live obedient lives. How can they all be tied together? The process is like this: Right doctrine leads to obedience, which leads to Love for one another. So, you see, it is all wrapped together in one bundle. So what excuse do we have for not doing all three? What excuse is there for not living out our faith?

Perhaps we don’t believe what it says in 1st John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” God’s commands don’t place a heavy burden on us. They aren’t something we have to do grudgingly, but they should be a joy to follow.

What would be burdensome? It would be trying to please God in our own strength like every other religion does - by trying to keep a list of rules. The Pharisees required the burdensome thing. According to Jesus in Matthew 23:4-5: “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men.”

But Jesus isn’t like the Pharisees. Christ’s yoke is not burdensome, but light and easy. Matthew 11:28-30 says:
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Doing it the Pharisees way causes us to labor and be heavy laden. It’s arduous toil trying to please God in our own strength. Jesus’ way is easy and light. We certainly need the rest Jesus offers us. But, He offers it to us by offering us a yoke, an emblem of servitude. But His yoke is easy and His burden is light. So there’s no reason not to serve God.

You know what a yoke is, don’t you? It’s a wooden beam carved to fit the beast of burden – the ox - so that it doesn’t chafe or rub. But it is hooked to the harness so the ox can pull the plow or the cart. The yoke was used to control or guide the animal. The term, yoke, began to be used as a metaphor for submission – for obedience. This is submission to the Lord, and it’s easy. We don’t submit out of law, but out of love.

Again equating this to marriage, since, remember? The husband and wife are to be a picture of Christ and the church. How is the wife to respond in marriage? By submitting to her husband as to the Lord. Ephesians 5:22 says: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” The submission should be easy, not burdensome.

Here’s a story to illustrate: The perspective bridegroom was extremely nervous as he and his fiancĂ© discussed their wedding plans with the pastor. “I’d like to see a copy of the wedding vows,” the young man said, and the pastor handed him the service.

He read it carefully, then handed it back saying, “This won’t do. There’s nothing written in here about her obeying me.”

His fiancĂ© smiled, took his hand, and said, “Honey, the word obey doesn’t have to be written in a book. It’s already written in love in my heart.”

Indeed, love is our motivation for serving God. Love is why we obey Him and work for Him. Do you remember the story of Jacob and Rachel? Jacob worked seven years for Rachel, and in Genesis 29:20, it says, “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.” Serving God shouldn’t seem like a burden, either, but a joy – because we love Him so.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Tests of Salvation - All or None

1st John 5:13 is reach the theme verse of this book of 1st John:
“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”

The key phrase of the verse is this: “That you may know that you have eternal life.” All through this book, the emphasis is on our knowing. John wants us to be assured of our salvation.

But how can we be sure? It’s not by looking back at some day in our past when we made a decision, or when we prayed the sinners prayer, or the day we asked Jesus into our heart. John never mentioned any of those, not once in this whole book.

He didn’t because they can be deceiving. They might just be an emotional response to some evangelist’s slick crafted invitation. Millions who’ve made professions of faith, or walked an aisle at some crusade, are nowhere to be found in any church. Many even now deny the faith they once professed - that’s being an apostate.

No! According to John, assurance comes not through some past event, but through daily life - living the Christian life. It comes by demonstrating evidence of faithfulness in our daily lives. Throughout this book, John gave three tests, and he repeats them over and over. The tests are:
1. Right Doctrine – do we believe the right stuff about Jesus?

2. Obedience to God’s commands: some call that practical righteousness.

3. Love for one another: the topic we’ve spent a lot of time on in chapter 4.

But now in chapter 5, rather than presenting the tests individually, they are all jumbled up together. It’s like they are all wrapped up in one package. You can see this in the first three verses, they are like a seamless garment.

Let’s read them so you can see this:
1st John 5:1-3
“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ (right doctrine) is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. (Love of the brethren) By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. (Obedience) For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”

All three tests are tied together. They can be all wrapped up together because they are all a result of the new birth. As it says in 1st John 5: 1, “Whoever [does these things] is born of God.” So, because we’re born of God (born again), we live this way. It’s not just passing one test, we must pass all three - all three are necessary as proof. Like Campbell’s soup and sandwich, you can’t have one without the other. One alone proves nothing.

Let me illustrate: During our early formative years of searching and struggling to develop what we believe, we lived in Syracuse, New York. While there, we were actively involved in a large home school group. Home Schoolers come from a variety of different backgrounds, you know – liberal, fundamental, charismatic. So we’d get together, as believers, and we’d have long discussions of theology. That was a shock to my Baptist upbringing. We thought we were the only ones who were going to be in heaven.

But I’d talk to my believing friends who were in liberal, mainline churches, and some of them were the only born again believers in the whole church, and I’d ask them, “How can you stay in those churches? They don’t preach the Word, they don’t even believe it?”

And their response shocked me: “How can you stay in your fundamentalist churches that don’t do anything to help people? They don’t even act like they like people?”

Then they would list off all the things their liberal church was doing. They operated nursing homes, rented cheap garden spots in the city, built houses through Habitat for Humanity, served “Meals-on wheels.” The list went on and on. “Where’s the love in your church?” they asked, as I asked, “Where’s the good doctrine in yours?”

I had many great friends in Charismatic churches. They were on fire for the Lord, and seemed to genuinely love one another. They seemed like they were living the Christian life right. But I’d say to them, “How can you stay when so much of the doctrine is wrong?”

And they’d say back, “How can you stay in your stuffy fundamentalist church where everyone is so cold and stiff? You guys don’t know how to worship. You don’t know how to show any feelings or emotions toward God.” And again, I’d be speechless, “but, but, but…” Perhaps we all have something important to learn from John.

The liberals might be doing what God wants believers to do in showing love to one another, but for what? If they aren’t also preaching salvation, what’s the point? There’s no benefit eternally to a full stomach.

The Charismatics might have enthusiasm, and write some nifty worship songs, but emotion that isn’t guided by sound theology can lead in some strange directions. You can see that by tuning in to some of their big-name TV preachers.

But, what about us fundamentalists? Our claim is good doctrine, so what’s our excuse? We should know better. We need all three to be right – good doctrine, love, and obedience to God’s commands - or we are not right.