Sunday, July 28, 2013

We Know the Truth!

As we draw toward the end of 1st John, it is evident John wants us to know certain things. Particularly, John wants us to know for sure that we are saved. 1st John 5:13 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.”

Everything has built up to this great verse, and we’ve said that we can test ourselves to prove whether we are saved or not. Even Paul encouraged us to test ourselves: In 2nd Corinthians 13:5, he told us to, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.”

We apply the tests. A genuine believer should be able to come to the conclusion that, “Yes, I know that I am saved. Conclusively, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I know.”

“Well, how can you be so sure?” someone might ask;

And the answer is, “I’ve taken the tests, and I’ve passed.”

What tests? Well, John gives us the tests – he gives them here in this book. That’s what this book consisted of, series of tests so we could do self-examination. It is so you can “know that you have eternal life.”

But, what about after we’ve assured our hearts? Assurance leads to more assurance. We gain assurances of other things. I want you to notice something
1st John 5:18, 19, and 20 each begin the same way – “we know. . . and we know. . . and we know.” This Greek word “know” means with absolute knowledge. It expresses unshakeable certainty – the kind you sink your teeth into.
It’s the same assurance we have toward the entire Bible, which Paul said was God breathed. We can trust the whole Bible completely. 2nd Timothy 3:16 says:
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”

Every word in the original manuscripts was God breathed – that’s what inspiration means. Inspire, respiration, blowing breath across vocal chords, making sounds that form words and sentences. That’s what God did when he gave the Bible, and men wrote it down and carefully preserved it. It was given without error in the original manuscripts. It is unchanging, because God never goes back on His Word. It doesn’t change with the times or the culture.

Quoting Eric Ludy, “Jesus is a rock. His truth is a rock. . . rocks don’t adjust to each new generation of hikers; rather each new generation of hikers is forced to adjust to them.”

Now that’s graphic. We stand on the rock that will not be moved. We stand on the unchanging truth of the Word of God.

That kind of assurance isn’t very popular in our day which considers it arrogant to be sure of anything. “That’s too dogmatic,” many would say, and we are told to downplay doctrine - doctrine divides, after all.

For many, harmony among the “professed” believers is most important. So we downplay truth, and we tolerate error. We live and let live. And so many churches would rather lure people into their churches with gimmicks than with the truth of God’s Word. And it works, if your aim is to pack the pews. But it fails miserably if your aim is to change lives. I wonder which God considers most important?

Unfortunately, that philosophy isn’t standing on the outside trying to get into our churches. That philosophy reigns king in way too many churches. And it guides their methodology and practice.
The emergent church movement is built entirely on the Post-Modern philosophy that truth is fluid, so they continually try to reinvent church to make it more relevant to culture. And they present a more pleasing view of Jesus. They offer a Jesus less demanding and less narrow minded – less offensive to our modern sensitivities.

In commenting on that phenomena, Eric Ludy remarked, “Marketing and presentation aside, the fact remains that Jesus died covered in blood hanging naked between two thieves.”

People don’t need slick presentations, they need the cold, hard truth. Everything else is powerless to change a life. It takes truth, energized by the power of the Holy Spirit. Only that can penetrate the veil over our blind eyes . Only that can cut through the calluses over our hardened hearts. Yet, what is offered all too often is a sickly, gray pabulum that’s easily digested but can never satisfy.

No, that’s not right – pabulum can provide nutrition to a baby; but if you leave the Bible out, there’s nothing to nourish our starving souls. We are left to spiritually wither away. Instead of nourishment from the Word, we are offered platitudes and helpful hints for our relationships with one another, but never truth – and never with conviction.

But that simply makes a mockery of the Word of God, and it makes us a laughingstock in front of the world. We must believe and proclaim the truth as the truth.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sin Leading Unto Death

Look at what it says: 1st John 5:16 - There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. Huh? That part of the verse is a puzzler.
“There is sin leading to death?” What is it?

Well, let’s start with what it’s not. First, it’s not some awful sin that is so bad God can’t or won’t pardon it. Even a Ted Bundy could be saved and forgiven. Even those who nailed Jesus to the cross could be saved and forgiven. No sin is too great for God to forgive if the heart is repentant. The Roman Catholics have this distinction between a mortal and venial sin, but there’s no such distinction in the New Testament.

In the Old Testament certain sins required the death penalty, and it didn’t allow a sacrifice for willful sins; but nothing like that is found in the New. It tells us God can forgive even the most despicable of sins.

Paul, persecutor of the church, is an example: He was searching out Christians to bind them in chains and cast them into dungeons for execution. But Jesus met him on the Damascus Road, and it changed his life.

This is also not talking about apostates. Apostates were never Christians to begin with. They tried out Christianity for awhile, then turned back to the world from which they came.

No, these are genuine believers being referred to here. 1st John 5:16 calls them that – “If anyone sees his brother sinning.” Brothers are our fellow believers. They too are children of God, born again, adopted into God’s family.

Well, what then is this “sin leading to death?” The death must be physical death as a result of persistent, deliberate sin. It’s not a specific sin, or a kind of sin, but an unrelenting, persistent sin the believer won’t give up. So God brings them home early.

But why would a good, loving God do that? Why would God bring death to one of His own? That’s a good question. It could be to protect His reputation. He might if the actions of that professed believer puts a blight on His name or hinders his program. Can you imagine the damage that a professing believer does while he lives a life of sin? Can you imagine the damage he does to God’s reputation? Or, it could be to protect the believer from an ongoing life of sin, a life of ruin and degradation.

Here are some examples of God protecting his reputation or program: In Leviticus 10:1-7, Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, disobeyed God by bringing strange fire to the altar of god, and fire came out of the alter to devour them. In Numbers 16, Korah and his clan opposed Moses’ authority, claiming equal authority. God opened up the ground to swallow them alive. In Joshua 6-7, Achan stole of the bounty at Jericho, and he and his family were stoned and they and all their possessions were burned. In 2nd Samuel 6, Uzzah reached his hand to steady the Ark of the Covenant when the oxen stumbled, and God struck him dead instantly.

There are New Testament examples also. In Acts 5:1-11, Annanias and Saphira lied to the Holy Spirit about their offering, and God struck them dead. In 1st Corinthians 5:1-5, Paul instructs the Corinthians what to do about the man in the church having an affair with his mother in law, and he says to “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

Then, in 1st Corinthians 11:29-30, Paul talks about those who were taking part in the Lord’s Table unworthily: “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.” That means they are dead. These people’s sin literally caused their death.

Wow! But didn’t we say that say the reason is that God is protecting the believer from himself? This almost sounds like God is getting even or punishing them for their sin. Can this be true?

Well, let’s think about it:
Look at Hebrews 12:5-7, the passage where it talks about God chastening us as a loving parent:
“And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
“For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.”
“If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?

When God takes us to the woodshed for a lickin’, it proves He love us, not the other way around. And if we respond to His discipline, God instructs us, trains us, and corrects us in love just the way you would with your own child. You don’t spank someone else’s child.

But drop down to Hebrews 12:9
“Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?”

What’s the implication? If you don’t respond to God’s discipline, you just might die - not a spiritual death, but a physical one. It is a child of God, after all, in this passage. But the implications is – physical life is on the line.

I can give you lots of examples of people I knew: There was a new convert in one of our churches who was saved out of alcoholism. He used to run around on his wife and drink up every paycheck, but now, he was on fire for God. For two years, he lived a new, sober life, but then he started having binges. He would be very repentant with tears, and straighten out, for awhile, but then the binges continued with greater and greater frequency. He died of a heart attack at the age of 30.

There was another young man we knew. His parents had split up, neither wanting him, and he shuffled back and forth between them. He got into repeated trouble. He was saved at the age of 20 through the witness of an aunt, and seemed real tender to the Lord. But there was never any real change in his lifestyle. He kept on drinking and died at the age of 21 in a car accident caused by the combination of excessive speed and alcohol.

As a good Father, God might have just called those two young men home to protect them from a life of degrading sin. As a good parent, we want to protect our kids, not let them destroy their lives, their reputation, and their testimony. For a Christian, death is a better alternative by far. They will be safe in heaven. That is much better than allowing them to live a life of sin.

As parents, my wife and I have prayed for our children, “God, if our children are going to reject you, take them before they can dishonor You, and reject You eternally.” We would rather lose them young, than lose them eternally. It is much better that they die before they reach the age of accountability, then live a long life and go to hell.

But, still, this is confusing - especially the part where it says in 1st John 5:16, “There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.” Why shouldn’t we pray about that? Quoting the best commentaries, “Beats me!” Nobody knows. But don’t let that bother you. This is given as an exception.

The preponderance of the teaching in Scripture is for us to pray. Almost never are we told not to pray. It’s more natural for us to skip praying anyway. We are more prone to gossip about someone caught in sin than pray for them. Shame on us!

But we really don’t know when these exceptions are going to occur. We have no idea who will repent and who won’t. We have no idea who will be restored, and who will sin leading to death. So as a general rule, pray. This isn’t a command not to pray as much as a comment that it won’t do any good in some cases. But we don’t know, so we pray - we always pray.

But, let this obscure passage be a warning: Sin has consequences, even in the life of a believer, and one of those consequences for unrelenting sin just might be physical death. Always, repentance is the best plan.

Look at Peter’s example: After following Jesus around for three years of intimate contact, when the crisis came at Jesus’ arrest and trial, Peter denied that he even knew the Lord -Peter denied Him three times. Doesn’t that sound like a sin leading to death? Yet, Jesus restored him, and Peter went on to a life of useful service with phenomenal results.

In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” Don’t be too quick to write someone off.

The glorious truth is this, God can restore anyone – God can use anyone. Falling into sin doesn’t have to be the end. But you must repent. If you are caught up in sin, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline. If your conscience torments you, that’s God working on you. Turn back to Him. And know we are praying for you.

And if you see someone else falling into sin, don’t condemn them or gossip about them. Pray! Pray! Pray! Pray that they be restored.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pray for Sinners

We have been assured in 1st John 5:15 that God has promised us His ear when we pray according to His will. But what is God’s will? What does God want us to pray about? What does He consider important?

John gives us at least a partial answer in 1st John 5:16:
“If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.”

This verse is all about prayer. It’s implying that we have a responsibility to pray. If we see our brother sinning, we have a responsibility to intercede on his behalf trusting that God “will give him life.” This is certainly a prayer within God’s will. If our brother has a problem, we should pray, but especially if his problem is sin.

We’ve examined sin in the life of a believer before. We’ve covered 1st John 3:9, which says: “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” The indwelling Spirit of God prevents us as Christians from engaging in a lifestyle of sin, yet each of still sins some.

Believers do sin – if we say we don’t sin, we lie. But we don’t live in sin. Remember the discussion of the verb tenses in this verse? This isn’t saying a believer doesn’t sin, but that he doesn’t practice sin. He doesn’t live comfortably in sin. Sin isn’t the defining characteristic of his lifestyle. It is out of character for a child of God to live in sin. God won’t let it happen.

But, when sin does get in, we deal with it – we confess it. 1st John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

So, if we see someone falling into sin, it is our responsibility to prayer for them. We will pour out our heart to heaven in fervent, prevailing prayer as we wrestle in prayer for them to repent and confess their sin before God so that the sin doesn’t become a habit, a pattern, a lifestyle.

But what about ongoing sin in a believer’s life? What about the times when a believer becomes so entangled in sin that they don’t want to turn from it; they don’t want to get their life cleaned up; they don’t want to confess it? You can’t talk to them because they shy away from Christian counsel, so what can you do? What access do you have to them? Answer? You can pray!

Should you ignore the situation? Should you leave him alone to suffer the consequences of his sin? NO! You bathe him in prayer And God will hear and respond.

It’s hard to imagine anything more obviously in the will of God than the restoration of a believer who has fallen into sin, so we need to fervently pray.
If they are entrapped in the snares of sin, pray, pray, and pray some more. And trust that in time, God will convict their heart and draw them back.

Monday, July 1, 2013

We've Always Got God's Ear

Strictly speaking, John ended the epistle with 1st John 5:13. Everything built up to that Grand Finale verse. The whole epistle led us to gain assurance of our salvation or to know we didn’t have it.

1st John 5:13 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.”

But, if that was the climax, why do we have these extra verses? Why didn’t John just stop writing? John seems to be reluctant to leave the matter so he adds some postscripts, some additional assurances, and another warning. John has covered these topics before in greater detail, but these are like last reminders. This section is wrap-up.

The first thing John does is offer assurance in prayer:
1st John 5:14–15
“Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”

Praise God! We always have God’s ear. Day or night, in church and out, whether we have our eyes closed or not, it doesn’t matter. We are never out of God’s earshot. It doesn’t matter if we live in Maine, or darkest Africa. Prayer never becomes inoperative. We can have total confidence that God hears us.

Plus the second confidence is this: We always get an answer from God. Some people say, you either get a “Yes,” or a “No,” or a “Wait;” but this actually says, “We know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”

Ah, but the catch, of course there’s a catch. Verse 14 adds, “If we ask anything according to His will.” How obvious! This is only common sense. If a Father says to a son, “Son, I want you to go out and mow the lawn this afternoon.” And the son says, “Great Dad, can I go out and mow the lawn?” The dad is always going to say, “Yes! You can!” – Amazing!

But the opposite is also true. If the Dad says, “Son, I want you to go out and mow the lawn this afternoon.” And the son says, “But Dad, rather than mow lawn, can I play ball with my friends?” The dad will usually always say, “No!” – almost always. The assurance of answered prayer always comes with conditions. The answers have to fit within the will of God, not just fit within our selfish desires.

For instance, look at John 14:13-14”
“And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”

Do you see? There are conditions: First, it has to be “in My name.” In other words, according to all that Christ is and stands for. And second, so that “the Father may be glorified in the Son.” The requests can never be for our own glory, never for our own selfish desires.

1st John 3:22 says:
“And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”

The conditions here are:
1st– obedience – “because we keep His commandments.” There’s no reward for rebellion. Bad boys don’t get special favors.

2nd – our desire to please God – “and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” Just like with anyone you love, you want to please them. You listen to them and study them to find out their likes and dislikes. We pray for what pleases God.

Aren’t these conditions all wrapped up in the way Jesus taught us how to pray?
Matthew 6:9-10:
“In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I’ve quoted this before, but Robert law said: “Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in heaven, but in getting God’s will done on earth.” The issue isn’t getting God to pay attention to our selfish requests, but the issue is getting our requests in line with His will. Do you see the difference? When will we stop looking at prayer as if it were a letter to Santa Claus, and start using it as a tool of ministry as a way to tap into God’s unlimited power to accomplish His will through us?