Sunday – January 4, 2015 1st John 5 verses 18 to 21

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 1 John 5:21
“Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”

John throws a final fastball right by us in 1 John 5:21. You stand there flat-footed, thinking, “Where did that come from?” He hasn’t been saying anything about idolatry. He hasn’t mentioned it in the entire book. So, at first glance, it seems out of context. But as you think about it, it sums up his entire message. Idolatry is making up your own god as a substitute for the one true God, who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. The false teachers were doing just that. They were offering a false god of speculation, not the one true God of revelation. So John’s final words are a warning against adopting the errors of man-made religion.

We may think that this warning had a special application in Ephesus, where John sent this letter. The Temple of Diana (or Artemis) was there and the silversmiths made a good living making statues of this pagan goddess (Acts 19:23-41). If you travel today in the Far East or in primitive tribal areas, you see many shrines to idols. But Americans, we say to ourselves, do not have a problem with bowing down before statues of imagined gods. But that is not the case. Our idols may not be of stone, gold or precious stones, but we Americans still bow down to them.

In the most basic sense, an idol is anything that takes the rightful place of God in your life. Paul equated covetousness or greed with idolatry (Eph. 5:5). Your career, your pursuit of money, your possessions, excessive devotion to leisure and recreation, or even putting a human relationship ahead of your relationship with God, may all become idols. Putting your intellect above God’s revelation, just as Nicodemus did in John 3, is idolatry. Watching hours of inane or immoral TV shows each week or spending hours playing computer games, while not having time to spend with God or serve Him, is idolatry.

John tells us to “guard” ourselves from idols, which implies that we have something valuable that the enemy is trying to steal. Charles Spurgeon, a 19th century British preacher, points out that if a man has a box and he’s not sure what’s in it, he won’t be very careful about guarding it. But if he knows that it contains a rare and valuable treasure, he will be diligent to guard it carefully. John is saying that if you know the true God and His Son Jesus Christ, you have a treasure. Guard it so that you don’t drift into one of the many forms of idolatry.

Sunday – December 28, 2014 1st John 5 verses 14 to 17 “Confidence in Prayer”

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1 John 5:14-15
“This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.”

Over the years, I have to admit my “prayer batting average” is pretty low. I have prayed for the salvation of people who have not gotten saved. I have prayed for the restoration of sinning Christians, who have not repented and been restored. I have prayed for the reconciliation of many Christian marriages that have broken up. Many people have tried to encourage me by telling me, “God gives people free will.” But if God cannot subdue a sinful person’s will, then He can’t do anything! That means that sinful man, not God, is sovereign! If God promises to answer our prayers, then He has the power to answer them!

Many who do not know God pray, but they are not seeking God’s will in prayer. Rather, they are trying to use Him (whoever they conceive Him to be) to get what they want. But biblical prayer is not trying to talk God into giving us what we want. Rather, it is submitting our will to His will. It is praying, as Jesus instructed the disciples in Matthew 6:10, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

It would be the height of stupidity to pray for your will to be done as opposed to God’s will. Yet we do that very thing when we “command” God to give us what we think will make us happy or to take away painful things in our lives. For one thing, it would mean that you know better than God what is best for your life. But He knows everything and He has assured us that He loves us far more than the best earthly father loves his children. So it only makes sense to submit to and pray for His will for your life and for others.

But, the difficulty is, how do we determine what God’s will is so that we pray in line with it? Are we talking about His will of decree or His will of desire? God’s will of decree is what He has determined to do. In this sense, God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). Here’s the difficulty when it comes to praying for God’s will: It is God’s will of desire that all men be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). Yet, we know that in His decree, God has willed to save only His elect (Rom. 9:9-24). So it would be going against God’s will of decree to pray, “God, save everyone in the world.” But, we should pray, “God, save my loved one,” and, “Save my neighbor.” The problem is, I cannot know in advance whether or not He will do it, because I do not know His will of decree. So I ask, but I have to say, “Not my will, but Yours, be done.”

Sunday – December 21, 2014 Christmas Message

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Hebrews 10:5-7
Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME; IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND SACRIFICES FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE. THEN I SAID, ‘BEHOLD, I HAVE COME (IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD.’”

One does not need to be a sociologist or a theologian to realize our society is doing everything it can to take Christ out of Christmas. Christmas is clearly under attack, both from within and without. It is no longer legal, or at least fashionable, to display a nativity scene on public property. Say things like, “Merry Christmas” and you will find people at best replying “Happy holidays.” Christmas vacation is now more obliquely called a “winter holiday” and will likely soon to be downgraded to a solstice celebration. What’s left of Christmas is less about the Newborn Babe and more about a chubby old man in a red suit.

While I am concerned about how the world views Christmas, I am more deeply troubled that all too many Christians fail to fully grasp the importance and implications of the incarnation. And beyond this, that many are willing to allow the celebration of the incarnation to be restricted to one day a year. I believe the importance of the incarnation is worthy of our attention in any season, but even more during this season lest the outgoing tide of culture pull us further away from the significance of God taking on human flesh. If we grasp the significance of the incarnation as we should, then we will also conclude that the annual celebration of Christmas is inadequate, and that our celebration of our Lord’s first coming must result in worship like the shepherds at the manger.

The incarnation was necessary in order for men to see God, and to behold how God’s perfections manifest themselves in humanity. God was unseen in the Old Testament, and because no man-made image (idol) or created thing could accurately reveal God’s likeness, their worship was forbidden by God. With the incarnation of our Lord in human form, God was now manifest in human flesh, so that men could see and touch Him. In the words of Scripture, Jesus was “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). The incarnation is an essential part of the gospel, by which men are saved as Peter told the crowds in Acts 2:22-25. Belief in the incarnation is essential, so much so that embracing it is a test of orthodoxy as we have seen in our study of John’s first epistle (1 John 4:1-3).

The incarnation of our Lord is to be celebrated on a regular basis, every time we observe communion. The incarnation is to be celebrated in the context of the saving work of our Lord. Thus, communion is a proclamation of the fundamental truths of the gospel, truths which we dare not forget, and truths which those who are lost must embrace. Christ Jesus came to earth in sinless, human flesh, to live a life of complete obedience to the Father, and ultimately to die in the sinner’s place, bearing God’s wrath, so that all who accept His work may be saved.

 

 

Sunday – December 14, 2014 1st John 5 verses 6 to 13 “Is Christianity Merely Psychological?”

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1 John 5:6-8
“This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”

Skeptics frequently allege that Christian conversion is merely a psychological phenomenon that can be explained in purely naturalistic terms. In their minds, conversion to Christ is a purely subjective experience. They will agree it is nice if it works for you, but you shouldn’t try to impose it on everyone else or say that those who do not believe as you do are wrong. If you say that Jesus Christ changed your life, the skeptic will reply, “That’s great for you, but it doesn’t prove that Christianity is true for everyone else. Buddhism changed Richard Gere’s life. Scientology changed Tom Cruise’s life. Cabalistic Judaism seems to have changed Madonna’s life. So if changed lives are the criteria of truth, there is plenty of evidence that Christianity is not the only religious truth out there.”

How do you counter such arguments? There is value in subjective, inner assurance of the truth of the gospel for believers. But we need a more sure foundation for our faith than our subjective experience alone provides. Throughout 1 John, the apostle has been addressing the matter of authentic Christianity. False teachers had caused confusion in the church and had left, taking a number of people with them. They claimed to have secret knowledge about Jesus Christ, but their teaching contradicted the apostolic witness to Christ. John repeatedly shows that authentic Christians believe the truth about Jesus Christ, they obey God’s commandments, and they love one another.

John wasn’t relaying some inner, subjective vision or philosophy. He was telling about his objective experience with Jesus Christ. You can’t get much more objective than seeing, hearing, and touching! Jesus Christ is God’s witness to us through the apostles who spent three years with Him. In our text, John comes back to this objective witness with which he opened this letter. He wants us to have a sure foundation for our faith. Authentic Christian faith rests on God’s testimony to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

If you don’t know whether or not you have eternal life, nothing is more important than to make sure. Go back and read again God’s testimony of His Son in the gospels. See the witness of the Spirit throughout the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. God’s testimony about Jesus is the foundation of our faith. Christianity is not just a psychological experience. It rests on this solid witness.

Sunday – December 7, 2014 1st John 5 verses 1 to 5 “How Are Your Vital Signs?”

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1 John 5:1-4
“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”

We all know of people who claim to be Christians and yet their lives seem to bear little resemblance to one who obeys His commands. Jesus warned that there will be many who call Him “Lord” who even have done miracles in His name, but at the judgment He will say, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). In light of these things, we all need to be clear about whether we truly have been born again or not.

Every parent knows the great joy of seeing a new life come into this world. Some parents must go through the pain and sorrow of having a stillborn baby. The difference consists in that one quality, which even modern medicine cannot impart—life. In the spiritual realm, as in the physical, new life means everything. If a person is truly born of God, there will be signs of life. If those signs are missing, there is cause for great alarm.

The very first test given to a newborn in the delivery room is called the Apgar score. The test was designed to quickly evaluate a newborn’s physical condition after delivery and to determine any immediate need for extra medical or emergency care. It measures things like muscle tone, heart rate, reflexes, skin color, and breathing rate. The vital signs of birth are essential. The vital signs of spiritual birth are just as essential.

A true child of God will have a spiritual Apgar score. We could probably come up with more, but John gives us three vital signs of the new birth: faith in Jesus Christ, love for others, and obedience to God’s commandments. If you claim to be born again, you may want to check your spiritual Apgar score. If the vital signs of new life in Christ are not there, you need to get down on your knees and plead with God to cause you “to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

Sunday – November 30, 2014 1John 4:17-21 “Confidence on the Day of Judgment”

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1 John 4:16-18
“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.”

John knows that in the matter of loving others, it’s easy to be hypocrites. It’s easy to sing, “Oh, how I love Jesus,” while at the same time our homes are a battle zone. We put on our spiritual masks at church, but in our hearts we harbor bitterness toward a fellow Christian who has wronged us. So John once more hits this vital matter of practical love for one another. John is saying, love that comes from God gives us confidence in the day of judgment and must be expressed in love for others in obedience to God’s commandment.

Of all of the important matters in life, none is more vital than the one that John mentions in verse 17—having confidence in the day of judgment. But we need to make sure that our confidence is based on biblical reasons, not on false hope. Polls show that at least 60 percent of Americans believe in hell, but only four percent think there’s a good chance that they will go there. Since we’re talking about eternity in the lake of fire, you need to be sure of where you stand! Since John tells us how to have confidence on that coming day, we all should pay close attention.

From beginning to end, the Bible is clear that there is a coming day of judgment. Jesus spoke often about the judgment to come. The apostle Paul, preaching to the philosophers in Athens, declared (Acts 17:31) that God “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” When he talked with the Roman governor Felix, Paul discussed “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come”.

Our source of confidence is that we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and His shed blood as the propitiation for our sins. It is only His blood, not our works, that atones for sins. But, how do we know that our faith in Christ is genuine, since it is easy to be deceived? One evidence of genuine faith is when we see God’s love flowing through us to others, especially to others that we would not naturally love. The more you see God’s love surfacing in your life, the more you will “have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (1st John 2:28).

Sunday – November 23, 2014 Thanksgiving Celebration

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Psalms 136:1-3
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.

Give thanks to the God of gods, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

We’re not supposed to give thanks to the Lord only one day each year, when we stuff ourselves with turkey and all the trimmings. Giving thanks to our gracious God should not be seasonal, but perpetual: “Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Eph. 5:20). And so this psalm is appropriate for any and every day of the year but most importantly at this time of Thanksgiving. The psalmist tells us to always give thanks to the Lord, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.

Psalm 136 is a unique psalm in that the same refrain is repeated 26 times. The only thing close is when Psalm 118:1-4 repeats, “His lovingkindness is everlasting” four times. Probably, Psalm 136 was designed for public worship. The Jews called it the Great Hallel (Praise), and it was especially sung at the Passover. Perhaps the worship leader would recite the first line of each verse, followed by the congregation repeating together the response, “for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” John Calvin said that the repeated refrain teaches us that to praise the Lord properly, we must acknowledge that everything we receive from Him is bestowed by His grace.

The lesson for us is that it is important for us to know Scripture (including the Old Testament!) so well that we respond to trials and other situations in our lives with biblical language and thought patterns. The stories in the Old Testament that Psalm 136 speak about were written for our instruction so that we would not crave evil things as they did, nor be idolaters, nor try the Lord, nor grumble. If you are not familiar with these stories, so that they shape your worldview, you will not apply them when you most need to. Rather than thanking the Lord for His everlasting love, you will fall into grumbling with the rest of the world.

Why does the psalmist hammer home 26 times the theme that God’s lovingkindness is everlasting? It’s because the enemy wants us to doubt it, especially when trials hit. This truth was so important that David appointed singers whose job was to repeat at the tabernacle, “give thanks to the Lord, because His lovingkindness is everlasting” (1 Chron. 16:41). Later, when the ark was brought into the newly completed temple, Solomon appointed singers to sing, “He indeed is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting” (2 Chron. 5:13). God’s response was to fill the temple with the cloud of His glory. These things are for our instruction. In every situation, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting”.

Sunday – November 16, 2014 1st John 4 verses 12 to 16 “The Assurance of Abiding”

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1 John 4:12-14
“No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.”

Almost every Christian at some time has struggled with assurance of salvation. Perhaps you heard some godless university professor rail against the Christian faith, or you heard about a book or movie, and it caused you to doubt the truth of Christianity. Then the enemy hit you with the thought, “How could you be a genuine Christian and have these thoughts?” Or, it may have been during a time of severe trial, where God did not seem to be answering your prayers. The difficulties in your life multiplied without relief. You cried out to God, but He seemed to be on vacation. You just couldn’t make sense out of what was happening to you. Then, you began to doubt both the Christian faith and whether you were really a Christian at all.

The enemy has many such ways to shake our assurance of salvation. In the case of John’s first readers, false teachers were spreading heresy among the churches. They had left to form new churches, and many had followed them. When your friends join a new group with new teachings, it can cause you to question whether what you believe is really true. So the apostle John writes to his little children to give them assurance that they were truly abiding in Christ.

We’ve seen throughout 1 John, the issue is not perfection, but rather, direction. The important questions are, “What do you do when your faith wavers? Do you come before the Lord in confession, asking Him to strengthen your faith? What do you do when selfishness dominates your life, rather than God’s love? Do you grieve over your hardness of heart and ask God to fill you with His Spirit and to produce the fruit of His Spirit in you? Fruit is not an instant product. It takes time and cultivation. Faith and love take time to grow.

John wants you to know that if these qualities are growing in you, you can be assured that God abides in you and you in Him. If you do not see faith and love growing in your life, then do as Isaiah (55:6-7) directs: “Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”

 

Sunday – November 9, 2014 1st John 4 verses 7 to 11 “Why Love is Required”

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1 John 4:7-9
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

You may identify with the early believers. John has already emphasized the importance of love in 2:7-11 and hit it again in 3:11-18. We may be prone to say, “Okay, brother, we’ve got that one down now. Let’s move on to something else.” But John not only repeats the imperative to love one another but also he hits it longer and harder than at any other point in the book. He wants to make sure that we understand that love is not an optional virtue for the believer. It is to be the distinguishing mark of the church in the world. John goes so far as to say that if you do not love others, you do not know God! So we all need to examine our own lives by this supreme standard.

While love is the inevitable result of being born of God, it is not the automatic result. John tells us, “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” The implication is the life of God imparted to us in the new birth manifests itself in love for others. If we are children of the One whose very nature is love, then we will be like our Father. But at the same time, John writes, “Beloved, if God so loves us, we also ought to love one another.” Love is not automatic nor effortless! We always have room for growth in love.

Love is not opposed to truth. John has just spent six verses warning us (4:1), “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” He did not say: “Let’s just set aside those points of doctrine where we disagree and come together where we do agree, loving those who differ on these matters.” Because these men denied essential truth about Jesus Christ, John calls them false prophets, whose teaching is the spirit of antichrist. Love does not mean that we set aside the truth for the sake of unity.

We must exercise wise discernment here. Some doctrinal differences are not essential to the gospel, and we need to love brothers who differ with us on these matters. Some of these doctrines are important for how we live the Christian life, and so we may vigorously debate them among ourselves. But we must always remember that we are debating as brothers in Christ. If we divide from one another over every minor point of doctrine, we fall into the errors of “fighting fundamentalism.” At the heart of that sort of cantankerous behavior is a spirit of pride, where I assert that everyone must agree with me on every minor issue. At the same time, some issues fall into a gray zone, where salvation may not be at stake, but to embrace a particular view will have momentous consequences. We should not accuse those who differ with us of not being saved, unless they also deny the essentials of the gospel.

Sunday – November 2, 2014 1st John 4 verses 1 to 6 “Discerning the Spirits”

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1 John 4:1-3
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.”

P. T. Barnum made a fortune on the theory that “a sucker is born every minute,” and he has many disciples today. The Internet has only widened the door of opportunity for those that prey on the unsuspecting. I have read that the second most lucrative industry in Nigeria is scamming foolish Americans out of their money by promising to give them millions of dollars in exchange for their personal banking information.

Perhaps even more widespread than financial scams are spiritual scams. False cults and religions lure millions into their traps, promising them fulfillment, happiness, and more. Mormonism is growing rapidly worldwide. Jehovah’s Witnesses aggressively promote their heresies in just about every country of the world. Islam is growing all over Europe, and it is also rapidly expanding in America.

Even among those claiming to be evangelicals, who say that they believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, false teaching abounds. The “New Perspective on Paul,” which has captured many evangelical scholars and pastors, undermines justification by faith alone. The Emergent Church movement embraces much of the postmodern philosophy that there is no absolute truth. Many churches teach the Holy Spirit is at work in the world’s other major religions and that Christians should be open to learning from and being enriched by the Spirit’s work in world religions. In addition to these blatant errors, the “seeker church” movement has subtly redefined the gospel, so that the issue is no longer that we are sinners who need reconciliation to a holy God. Rather, we are religious consumers with needs that God is willing and ready to meet, if we will just give Him a try.

John tells his beloved flock, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” Paul said a similar thing. After saying that we should “not despise prophetic utterances,” he added, “but examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:20-21). True faith is not a blind leap into the dark. It examines its object carefully before putting trust in it. John Stott observes both Paul and John assumed, as the Reformers insisted, that “even the humblest Christian possessed ‘the right of private judgment.” We need spiritual discernment because Satan and his forces are alive and well, promoting error at every opportunity.