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.

Sunday – October 26, 2014 1st John 3:19-24 “Blessed Assurance”

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1 John 3:19-22
“We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.”

Every child has a basic need to feel assured of his parents’ love. It should be obvious that if parents verbally or physically abuse a child, that child will not feel loved by his parents. Eventually, he will distance himself from them through withdrawal or rebellion. So even when a child disobeys and must be disciplined; it is important for parents to affirm their love for him. Assurance of love is essential for close relationships.

The same is true spiritually. Even though the heavenly Father disciplines us for our good, that we might share His holiness, He does it out of love. He wants us, as His children, to be assured of His great love for us. John begins chapter 3 by exclaiming (3:1), “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” God wants His children to feel His arms of love around them, even when they go through difficult trials.

The enemy of our souls knows that we will not feel close to God if we doubt our standing before Him as beloved children. So he accuses us in an attempt to drive a wedge between us and God. In addition, at times our conscience condemns us as we compare ourselves with the holy standards of God’s Word. We know that we should love others, but in our hearts, we struggle with anger or bitterness or hatred toward those who have wronged us. We know that we should pray for God to bless this difficult person with His salvation, but inwardly, we’d rather see him punished. When we have those thoughts, either our guilty conscience or the enemy comes in and says, “A true Christian can’t have thoughts like that! You’re not even saved!”

The first anchor for assurance is always faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. If your trust is in Christ, God has promised you eternal life and He has promised never to allow you to be snatched out of His hand. A man once told D. L. Moody that he was worried because he didn’t feel saved. Moody asked, “Was Noah safe in the ark?” “Certainly he was,” the man replied. “Well, what made him safe, his feeling or the ark?” The point is, if you’re in Christ, it’s not your feelings that save you from God’s judgment. It’s Christ who saves! Faith puts you on the ark! Make sure you’re on board!

Sunday – October 19, 2014 1st John 3:11-18 “Love or Hate – One or the Other”

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1 John 3:11-12
“For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.”

If loving others were only as easy as giving a hug to someone you don’t like, we all could excel in love. Just hug them and move on. But, love is a bit more difficult than that. It requires continual effort, because at the heart of loving others is putting the other person ahead of yourself, and that is always a huge battle. For this reason, the New Testament as a whole and the apostle John in this letter never tire of exhorting us to love one another.

John had seen the love of Christ demonstrated that night in the Upper Room, when Jesus took the basin of water and washed the disciples’ feet. He then heard Jesus say in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Then John saw the supreme demonstration of Christ’s love when He willingly went to the cross and died for our sins. And so the “son of thunder” became known as the “apostle of love.” John has already reminded his little children of this old-new commandment of Jesus.  He will yet devote the major part of Chapter 4 (verses 7-21) to this same theme. In fact, six times in 1 John and 2 John, he refers directly to the command by Jesus  that we love one another.

If we get weary of hearing over and over about the need to love one another, we should remember that John wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who knows our hearts. We need to examine ourselves constantly because our default mode is to revert to selfishness, not to love. In our text, John again gets out his black and white paint and does not mix them into shades of gray. He wants to expose the errors of the heretics in the plainest of terms.

John says, “This is the message which you have heard from the beginning.” He means, from the beginning of your Christian life you were taught to love one another. It’s a basic truth that you should start to learn and practice from the first day of your Christian experience. God’s love flowing through us to one another should so mark the church that it draws a sharp contrast between us and the world.

Sunday – October 12, 2014 1st John 3:4-10 “What is Sin to a Christian?”

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1 John 3:7-9
“Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”

John divides all people into two camps: those who practice righteousness (3:7) and those who practice sin (3:8). There is no third camp for those who do not believe in Jesus, but are decent, good people who never hurt anyone. You may protest, “Surely, my grandmother who was sweet towards everyone and who believed in the basic goodness of human nature, was not of the devil!” The Bible offers no comfort to those who base their righteousness on good deeds, clean living or gentleness of spirit. _

The key to understanding John’s meaning lies in his next phrase, “for the devil sins [lit.] from the beginning.” This points us back to the original fall of Satan. God created Satan and all the angels as good, but Satan sinned against God and led a rebellion of other angels, who became demons. Isaiah 14:12-14, on one level describes a taunt against the king of Babylon, is also a description of Satan’s fall: “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of the assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

Notice that five times the devil said, “I will,” in opposition to God. He was not content with where God had created him. He wanted his own way. As we saw in verse 4, which is parallel to verse 8, the essence of sin is rebellion against God. The sinner says, “I will! I want my way! I will not submit to the Most High God.” This attitude originated in Satan and is the defining attribute of all who stand in opposition to the grace and mercy of God who provides His righteousness to all who trust in the work of His Son on the cross of Calvary.

So whenever a person acts in line with his own will, without submitting to God’s will, he is committing the original sin of the devil. Whether it manifests itself as the humanly respectable, “I will be nice to others, so that people will think highly of me,” or as the reprehensible, “I will kill others to get what I want,” it all comes from the same source: the devil. Any action that originates in the human will that is not in submission to God is devilish, even if outwardly it is a nice, humanitarian, seemingly “good” action.