Wednesday, November 30, 2011

1 John 5:18-19

We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

No person born of God will habitually and characteristically continue in sin, and is therefore we are kept from Satan’s harm.  The doctrine behind this has clearly been laid out in the previous verses. Although we all stumble we will feel conviction and repent, and we will daily become more like Christ. Although we may be assailed by Satan and the sinful world around us he cannot destroy the life and hope that is within us. True believers are safe in the grace of God and cannot lose their salvation.
The world around us lies in the power of the evil one, often unknowingly doing his bidding. There is no desire to through off the fetters that bind. In the majority of the world the dominion is complete. Individuals and nations are entirely subject to his will, imagining all the while that they are their own master. In many passages it is supposed that Satan has been given some amount of control over the world, especially the pagan world and false religions (John 12:31, 1 Cor. 10:20, 2 Cor. 4:4, Eph. 2:2, 6:12). It is our task to fight against the forces of spiritual darkness, knowing that no matter how hopeless the battle may seem that we are on the winning side!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

1 John 5:16-17

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

John has just assured his readers that God hears prayer and now gives a specific place when prayer may be employed, in rescuing a brother from sin.  But what is a sin leading to death?

This is one of those passages that leaves commentators at odds. Opinions of what the “sin leading to death” is abound: blaspheming the Holy Spirit, any enormous sin (murder, idolatry, adultery), a sin punishable by death under Old Testament laws, a sin that required excommunication from the synagogue or the church, sins which brought fatal disease upon the offender, etc.

The Greek (ἁμαρτία πρὸς θάνατον) could be translated a sin which "tends" to death – a sin which would "terminate" in death or which carried the death penalty. The phrase could refer to a literal death of the body, spiritual death (e.g. dead in transgressions and sins Eph. 2:1), or eternal death in Hell. There could be an allusion to Jewish law where there was "a sin unto death" (חטאה למיתה) and "a sin not unto death" (חטאה לא למיתה). A sin unto death would be one to which the law prescribed the death penalty.

Of course the wages of even the smallest sin is eternal death, and no amount of good works or intercessory prayer will pay the debt. Only through the blood of Jesus and the grace of God are we forgiven for any sin, whether murder or stealing a pen from the bank.

One clue to understanding the passage may be found in the Greek. The Greek for "pray" signifies a request of an equal. And a Christian intercessor should not the authority in requesting forgiveness for a sinner who has sinned. The Greek word for "ask" implies the humble petition of an inferior. "Asking" for a brother sinning not unto death is a humble petition in consonance with God's will. To "request" for a sin unto death as if we were more merciful than God would be presumption.

I personally feel that the verse could indicate that we cannot pray someone into salvation, although we of course could pray that they come to saving faith. In Jesus’ high priestly prayer (Matthew 17) he interceded not for those in the world who refused to believe, but for those given to Him out of the world.It is our duty to pray for those who sin and to seek the salvation of believers who go astray, and in my opinion it is better to err in praying for all who are walking in sin rather than try to categorize what the sin leading to death may be.

Matthew Henry’s commentary puts it thusly - "We cannot pray that the sins of the impenitent and unbelieving should, while they are such, be forgiven them; or that mercy, which supposes the forgiveness of sins, should be granted to them, while they willfully continue such. But we may pray for their repentance, for their being enriched with faith in Christ, and thereupon for all other saving mercies. We should pray for others, as well as for ourselves, beseeching the Lord to pardon and recover the fallen, as well as to relieve the tempted and afflicted. And let us be truly thankful that no sin, of which any one truly repents, is unto death."

Monday, November 28, 2011

1 John 5:13-15

1 John 5:13-15 (NASB) - These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 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.

John circles back to the topic of assurance of salvation. Our task as believers is not only to believe and evangelize others into a saving faith, but to help each other grow and persevere in faith. Our human nature can be prone to drift toward unbelief, distracted by the world and drawn into sin. It is not less important to keep the soul, than it is to "convert" it. Previously John gave tests such as faith in Jesus, love for God, and love toward others to confirm true Christianity.

"Confidence" (Παρῥησια) means boldness (liberty and access of speech). We take for granted how amazing it is that we can even approach God with any request. Imagine if I decided to ask the president to forgive my federal student loans and tried to walk over to see him in the Oval Office. Not only would I still have my debt, I would probably do some jail time! Yet we often approach God flippantly.

God will answer our prayers according to His will, and we should not to wish to receive anything contrary to what he judges best. We know from Scripture that certain things will always be granted if sought in a proper manner: forgiveness of sin, sanctification of our souls, comfort in trials, the fruit of the Spirit, wisdom in all situations, and eternal life. We are not always the best judges of what would be best for us. Though we may not immediately “see” that the prayer is answered we can be assured that it was not disregarded.

We can know the will of God often through looking at our life and desires through the lens of Scripture. It may also take spiritual maturity and discernment. Often it takes hindsight to understand why a situation was a certain way, and even then we will not understand everything this side of heaven.  We should view prayer as a way not to get what we want, but what God wants. Prayer is a way to change our hearts into images of His.

Friday, November 25, 2011

1 John 5:1-12 Sermon Snippets

MacArthur (1, 2)
These... verses... direct our attention to this issue of being an overcomer... We need to view ourselves as overcomers. The word here for overcomes, nikaoin, means to conquer, to win, to defeat, to gain victory... from which we get the word Nike. The Greeks loved the word nike. They actually had a goddess by the name of Nike, and this was the goddess of victory, the goddess of triumph. And the Greeks actually believed that victory could not be achieved by mortals, but only by the gods. Only the gods were ultimately unconquerable... They were the only ones who could conquer and become unconquerable. For men, there might be a triumph here and a triumph there, but there would also be mingled in between defeat and failure. Only the gods could reach the level of being unconquerable.

Playing against the background of that kind of thinking in the ancient times, it was a pretty stunning thing to assign to Christians the kind of unconquerability that belonged only to the gods in that culture. We like that word even in English. The United States military forces have for many, many years called their missiles Nike Missiles. And then of course we have Nike shoes that are supposed to lead you to triumph in whatever athletic endeavor you're engaged in.

The word is used by our Lord Jesus Himself in John 16:33, He uses the verb form when He says, "In this world you shall have tribulation, be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." I have won out in conflict with the world. I have defeated the world. I have conquered the world. I am the victor over the world. And, of course, there is a form of that word used in one of our most favorite portions of Scripture, Romans chapter 8. At the close of that great eighth chapter where Paul is speaking about the unconquerable position of Christians in Christ, he says, verse 37, "In all these things we are more than conquerors," that's the Authorized. The NAS says, "We overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us." Paul says, "We're not just overcomers, we're not just nike... he compounds the word and adds huper which would be in English saying, "We're super-conquerors. We are the ultimate conquerors..." We are, to put it another way, invincible, unconquerable. So much that, "Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, or any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." There is nothing that can conquer us, not tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword. We are super-conquerors. We are the unconquerable. We are the overcomers...

First of all, at the point of our salvation and from then on we have become super conquerors of Satan... We have overcome the evil one... Not only have we become overcomes of Satan as powerful as he is, but we have become overcomers in the realm of life as well. That is, we have overcome death. I think the most notable portion of Scripture that speaks to that is 1 Corinthians 15:54... "Death is swallowed up in victory. O, death, where is your sting." The sting of death is sin, the power of sin is the law but thanks be to God that gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ...

"Whatever is born of God overcomes the world..." If you're still loving the world, if you're still attracted to the world, if you have not yet overcome the world, the love of the Father is not in you. "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not from the Father but is from the world and the world is passing away and all its lusts, but the one who does the will of God abides forever." We have overcome the world. It no longer overwhelms us. It no longer is the object of our attraction...

We're in the world no longer of the world. Its allurements don't pull our hearts. We are drawn by the Holy Spirit. We are drawn by the love of Christ. We are drawn by righteousness. We are drawn by the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of this world. We love not this world, but the kingdom of God. And so, in the very real sense we who are in Christ have overcome the world... You have overcome the world also in the sense that you no longer are deceived by the false prophets who ply their lies and deception in the world...

We struggle though in the world. Paul struggled in Romans 7 against the power of his fallen flesh. He struggled under terrible persecution by the world, beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, whipped, assaulted, attacked, despised, hated, jailed, put in stocks, finally executed. But none of that took away his victory because the worst that you could ever do to a believer would be to kill a believer, and to do that is to usher them into the full honors of their eternal triumph. It's really an astounding thing. The worst you could ever do to us is the best. If they take our lives, they free us from the debilitating flesh which clings to us. They can never take our salvation. Nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ. Nothing can ever break our faith. Nothing can ever cause a believer to stop believing.

Piper (1, 2)
Love for God is expressed in obedience to his commandments with a spirit that does not act burdensomely. Verse 3: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” The mark of love for God is joyful obedience, not begrudging obedience.

The basis of this unbegrudging obedience is the power of the new birth to overcome the world. Verse 4a: “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.” Our love for God obeys him freely and joyfully because in the new birth the spell of the world is broken and it loses its power. When the world loses its powerful attraction because of the new birth, God and his holy will become attractive. Not burdensome. How does this work? This world-defeating power that breaks the spell of sin and makes the will of God beautiful, not burdensome, is our faith. Verse 4b: “And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”

So the train of thought goes like this: The new birth happens as we are brought into contact with the living and abiding word, the gospel. The first effect of this new birth is that we see and receive God and his Son and work and his will as supremely beautiful and valuable. That’s faith. This faith overcomes the world, that is, it overcomes the enslaving power of the world to be our supreme treasure. Faith breaks the enslaving spell of the world’s allurement. By doing that, faith leads us into obedience with freedom and joy. God and his holy will look beautiful and not burdensome. The new birth has taken the blinders off. We see things for what they are. We are free to obey with joy.

If there ever was any testimony in the courtroom of life that we ought to listen to, it would be God's testimony... "And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life."  So according to God's testimony, the way to have life is to have the Son. Verse 12: "He who has the Son has life." And the reason we know it is eternal life is that verse 11 says, "God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." So the way to have eternal life is to have the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

And John sums it all up in the word LIFE. He who has the Son has life! Eternal life is not just the extension of all the frustrations and half-joys of this life. When Jesus finishes doing his thing, every frustration will be gone and every half-joy will be full. As he said in John 10:10, "I came that they might have life and have it abundantly." If you HAVE the Son, it means that anything that infinite love and infinite power and infinite wisdom can do for your good will in fact be done for you...

He who has the Son has One who can take all tribulation and distress and persecution and peril and turn it so that out of it comes not just a wounded soldier—no we are not just conquerors. Those who have the Son are "more than conquerors." Which means that the Son of God takes the tribulations of your life and actually turns them for your good. You don't just escape from your enemy. He serves you...

The Son of God... has two goals: the liberation of his people from sin and death, and the glorification of his own powers. That is the origin of salvation. That is the source of eternal life. And to show that what he loves is the liberation of his people and the magnification of his power, his services are not for sale. He will not be paid. So how do you come to HAVE the Son of God? He makes you a free offer, and you accept his offer, you trust him. He does his thing for those who trust in him. He who has the Son has life.

Verse 1. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: These are very simple words, but they contain a great depth of meaning. The teaching conveyed by this Epistle is very profound, though the language is such as even a child can understand. There must be faith in Jesus Christ as the anointed Son of God; otherwise, there is no new birth, no regeneration of the Holy Spirit...

If we really love God with our whole heart, we must equally love Jesus Christ, and we shall also love all his people, for they are one with him. If you truly love God, you also love his well-beloved and only-begotten Son, and you also love all his children. There cannot be a true love to the Father and a hatred to his family, that is impossible. Judge therefore by this test whether you love God or not...

"And his commandments are not grievous." To his people, they are charming; not grievous. They delight themselves in the law of God; and they only wish that they could be perfectly conformed to the divine will...

"This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth." The cleansing of the outward life does not stand alone, but it is accompanied by the putting away of sin from the heart. The two must go together; and no man will ever rightly value the cleansing water unless he equally values the atoning blood.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

1 John 5:9-12

If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

If three human witnesses were to testify unanimously in court, chances are we would believe them. (Of course there are always conspiracy theorists.) Throughout the course of our day most of us generally assume people are telling us the truth. The divine testimony of God is greater than the fallible testimony of man, and to not believe Jesus is the Son of God who gives eternal life then we consider God a liar.

There are numerous credible human witnesses who give testimony to the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Christ, but we also have the greater witness of God the Father. If you have accepted this testimony and become a believer then you have the testimony of the Holy Spirit within you, affirming the truth and sounding an alarm at the sound of false teaching. The only way to true life, both on earth and eternal, is from God through His Son Jesus, and his grace visibly transforms lives even today!

On this Thanksgiving I thank God for His testimony to me and the peace He has brought to my life!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

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.

(Verse 7 is disputed as it is not in early Greek manuscripts and may have begun as a note in the margin which was later copied into the text. If it is genuine it likely refers to the Trinity.)

Probably with those teaching falsely that Christ was a spiritual being and not flesh, John gives evidence that Jesus is the Son of God. John himself witnessed the water baptism of Jesus and His shedding of blood on the cross. Theologians disagree over the specific meaning of the verse. Does water mean purity, human birth, baptism, or the water that flowed from Jesus’ side when pierced to prove His death? Most would agree that “blood” alludes to His death, so I believe “water” refers to the baptism that marked the beginning of his ministry and signified His purity, although He needed no cleansing. Water had been symbolic of cleansing in the Old Testament and Jewish religion – ablutions were common in ceremonial law. Blood was clearly familiar to religion of the day as while the Temple stood the Jews daily remitted blood sacrifices for their sins, and Greek religion ordained animal sacrifice as well. Jesus came to fulfill the law through the water and the blood.

The Spirit bore witness in miraculous ways through the spiritual gifts and miraculous powers given to the apostles and early believers, but He still bears witness today. He testifies in every great religious revival and in the moment of initial faith for each believer. “No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). The Spirit testifies as He changes our carnal disposition into a new life reflecting Christ in us and has always revealed God through our understanding of Holy Scripture.

Many see the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper alluded to in the last verse, and certainly these acts of worship are a visual representation of the work of Jesus in our lives.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

1 John 5:3-5

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

The first verse flies in the face of common thought. After all, isn’t it easier to do our own thing rather than follow some tedious list of rules found in an ancient document? Sometimes the easier way out of a situation would be to disobey God’s commands and take the path of least resistance. But even if obeying God’s commands are more difficult in a situation, the consequences are easier in the long run. Of course in a spiritual sense when we follow God’s commands we are able to be close to God and gain an eternal reward, but even on earth the principle is true. As a wise boy told my friend the following when asked if he knew the difference between the truth and a lie, “A lie gets you in more trouble. A truth will get you in trouble, but only for a small duration...that's why I don't lie anymore. Now that I'm in the habit of telling the truth, I just can't stop!” When all is said and done, service to God is always easier than service to sin.

F.F. Bruce wrote that the term “world” may mean false teachings of antichrists, lusts of the flesh & eyes/pride of life, or the threat of hostility from the world against believers. Regardless, the victory was won at Christ’s resurrection, and we joined this victory through our faith when we were united into Christ’s body. As Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). If God is for us, who can be against us (Rom 8:31)?

Monday, November 21, 2011

1 John 5:1-2

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.

As the earthly parent of imperfect children, I can only imagine how I would respond if someone said to me, “I love you, but your kids get on my nerves. They are crazy! Them I can do without.” I doubt that person and I would be bosom buddies after such a statement. Yet so many people say they believe in our heavenly Father and either outright deny His perfect Son or live in a way that shows scorn to God by not showing love to God’s children or observing His commandments. Many believe Jesus is some sort of good teacher, if he exists at all, or that all paths lead up the great mountain of spiritual enlightenment.

Mere intellectual acknowledgement of God will not do. We must confess His son is the Christ – the Messiah who alone is capable of salvation. We must love God with all our being and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Love of this caliber can only occur when the love of God exists within us and the fruit of the Spirit finds roots in the soil of our hearts.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Friday, November 18, 2011

1 John 4:7-21 - Sermon Snippets

MacArthur (1, 2, 3)
“[John is] talking to believers here as indicated by the opening designation ‘beloved,’ agapetos, divinely loved ones. Those whom God loves, let us love one another… the verb [is] agape, agapaois the love of the will. It's not the love of emotion. It's not physical love, friendship love, it's the love of the will. It's the highest and noblest. And it's habitual…

“Now when the Word of God says something once, it's divine truth. When it says something twice, that means it's very important. But when the Word of God says the same thing over and over, we'd better pay particular attention. God repeats the theme of love so much because we can easily forget to love. We need to be reminded to have a perfect, complete, and fulfilled love for one another…

“We're talking about this kind of love that extends toward anybody that has a need, particularly those in the family of God. It is a perfect kind of love, a different love than the world's kind of love. It is a whole, complete love and it is the essence of God manifest in Christ. It is our testimony, it is the assurance of our salvation. It is our confidence in judgment and it is only reasonable because you could never truly have the love of God in you and not love others with that love. Perfect love is the mark of the true believer…

“We ought to love one another because love is a characteristic of God. Since we are God's children, we should reflect the character of our Father. God's people are to bear His reflection. It doesn't matter what someone claims--if he doesn't love, he doesn't know God…

“God is love itself, however love does not define God; God defines love. All God's activities are expressed in love because all His attributes work in cooperation. Even in judgment God's love shines through. To prove that ask yourself: Where is God's judgment the most demonstrative? At the cross. He poured out His wrath on His own Son as the punishment for sin. But where is God's love displayed most? At the cross. God's justice and love operate together…

“I don't care how cantankerous and obnoxious another Christian may seem to you, God still lives in him. Don't say you love God but hate him. How can you claim to love the invisible God and not love His presence in His people? It is easier to serve a visible man than an invisible God. If you can't serve a visible man, you certainly can't serve the invisible God. A claim to love God is an obvious lie if it is not accompanied by unselfish love for our brothers and sisters in Christ…

How Does God's Love Function?
  1. It is unrequited - Christian love doesn't need anything in return. It doesn't say, 'I love you because you love me.' One person doesn't love someone because he does him favors. He loves him independent of any return.
  2. It is unconditional - Love doesn't care how much it is offended, abused, and sinned against. We need to forgive and forget. There are no conditions to perfect love.
  3. It is vicarious - It gladly bears the pain of others. We should be willing to bear one another's burdens, weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice.
  4. It is self-giving - It is synonymous with sacrifice. If I have one meal and two of us need food, I give it to you and I go without.
  5. It is righteous - It tolerates no sin. When my child sins, I discipline him. When a believer sins, the church disciplines him. When you truly love someone, you will point out their sins to them in a loving way.”

Piper (123)
“Verse 7 says that ‘love is from God.’ And verse 8 at the end says, ‘God is love.’ These are not at odds. Because when John says that ‘love is from God,’ he doesn’t mean it’s from him the way letters are from a mailman, or even letters are from a friend. He means that love is from God the way heat is from fire, or the way light is from the sun. Love belongs to God’s nature. It’s woven into what he is. It’s part of what it means to be God…

“When you are born again, God himself is imparted to you. He dwells in you and sheds abroad in your heart his love. And his aim is that this love be perfected in you… “What does John mean by abiding in God and God abiding in us? Is it an intimate second stage of Christianity or is it just plain being a Christian? Jesus said in John 15:6, ‘If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.’ Abiding in Christ does not refer to a second level of maturity. It refers to whether you are in the vine or in the fire.

“Let's [apply] two tests to our own lives…
  1. The Test of Hearing and Confessing - Does your heart incline to the testimony of the apostles and prophets? That is, do you have a persevering longing to read the Bible or to hear the Word of God? When your heart grows cool and you begin to drift away from the Word of God, do you feel a godly guilt that humbles you and brings you back broken to the cross for forgiveness and renewal? When you hear the testimony of Scripture that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world, does your heart confess this truth? That is, do you gladly affirm the divine greatness of Christ and how worthy he is of trust and admiration and loyalty and obedience? Does your heart exalt Christ as the greatest thing of all? For that is surely what it means to be ‘Son of God.’
  2. The Test of Loving Each Other - When you hear a description of love like 1 Corinthians 13 or when you contemplate the example of Christ's life of love, does your heart fill with longing to be like that, and do you make firm resolves to conquer unloving attitudes and behaviors? When you fail in a resolve of love, does it grieve you and bring you broken to the cross pleading for forgiveness and seeking new strength to love again? Is the current and pattern of your life to live for the eternal good of other people, or are your thoughts and dreams and daily choices generally aimed at merely making yourself comfortable and your name esteemed?

“No one who is willing to follow John's teaching needs to be frightened at the approach of death. None of us who accepts this teaching will have to approach the judgment seat of God with our fingers crossed, wondering if we are going to make it. John wrote this book to give us ‘confidence for the day of judgment’ and to ‘cast out fear…’

“Brothers and sisters, one of the main reasons why so many professing Christians have little confidence with God and little boldness with men is that their lives are not devoted in love to the salvation of the lost and to the glory of God, but instead are devoted (often by sheer default) to providing earthly security and comfort for themselves and their families…

“When we try to say that we are indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, and yet we do not devote our lives to the eternal good of other people, there is a deep contradiction within that gnaws away at our souls and dissolves our confidence and leaves us feeling weak and inauthentic…

“A life poured out in the labors of love for the eternal good of other people yields a sure consciousness of doing good, a deep peace of mind and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter!”

“[Believers] love God because He is infinitely lovely and because He has so completely won your heart as to engross your whole affection. Because He first loved us and that love of His has been shed abroad in our hearts, we have loved Him in return as a matter of course—we cannot help doing so. The mighty deeps of His immeasurable love, high up on the eternal hills, flow down into the inmost recesses of our empty hearts and when, afterwards, a fountain of love is seen springing up out of them, the secret of its action is to be traced to that great reservoir away up on the everlasting hills! So our love to God is not the result of effort, nor does it arise from a sense of duty—it comes by knowledge and faith...

“If ever I loved You, my Jesus, ‘tis now.’ Well, if you meant it, then, you will still love Him tomorrow when your hands are busily occupied at your toilsome task, or your brain is counting up the long rows of figures which make your eyes ache, or you have to wait upon so many customers that you get utterly weary. You may not be able to be always thinking about Divine subjects, but if your heart is right, your love to your Lord is there all the while…

“Whoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in Him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has to us. God is love and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him. Is there anyone here who is full of anger, enmity, malice and envy? If so, let him know that God dwells not in the heart that harbors such abominations! Until these base passions are expelled and we feel love to all mankind for Christ’s sake, God is not in us, for, ‘He that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.’ The old method, according to Jewish tradition, was, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But Christ’s new rule is, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven.’ This is the point in which our likeness to God will be seen, for He loved us when we were His enemies—and He expects His children to love their enemies! May He graciously teach us that sacred art!”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

1 John 4:17-21

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. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

Love is perfected in us – made complete and becoming what it should be. If we live in love for others through the power of the Holy Spirit in this life we can have confidence to face Christ on the Day of Judgment. The influence of God’s love on our hearts delivers us from fear of the day of wrath to come. When God’s love permeates our life we have the same character traits Jesus exhibited on the earth – displaying in our lives His holiness, humility, patience, love, and forgiveness. If we have mature love we will have no fear. We will not fear death, for heaven lies beyond the grave; we will not fear man, for what can man do to us in the eternal scheme of things? Fear expects punishment, but love expects to receive love.

We could not love with true love without first His love being shown to us and making a relationship with him even possible. Otherwise we could only exhibit human love – conditional, self-serving, and temporary. And if we love God we must love people, especially those who are His children. All mankind bears the image of God, and if we can hate any man we would do well to search our hearts. It is difficult to prove our love for God based on our actions toward Him, as He is unseen. Therefore we have the commandment that the one who loves God should love his brother also – whatever we do not do for one of the “least of these” we do not do for Him.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

1 John 4:13-16

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.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 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.

I thank the Lord that He has given us His Spirit so that he can abide in us. Can you imagine trying to follow the law without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit changing our hearts from within and gently guiding us through our days? There is a daily communion between our hearts and God as he communicates his love and grace to us.

Whoever truly confesses that Jesus is the son of God, not just a good man or wise teacher, will prove by his life that he abides in God through his love. Just as we have experienced the love of God in our lives, others should experience his love through every encounter with us. I want to dwell in love. I want every words from my mouth, every movement of my body, and every thought in my mind to be so permeated with the supernatural love of God that others would be drawn to life with Him through my witness.

Every thought is a seed. If you plant crab apples, don't count on harvesting Golden Delicious.
- Bill Meyer

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

1 John 4:11-12

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.

God set the standard of love for us. Since we are His children we are called to love others, especially our Christian brothers and sisters. Many Christians do show this love, even sacrificially giving of their time, talents, and treasure. Sadly many others who profess Christ waste their time in activities that are “antichrist” such as gossip, “cliqueism”, and arguing minute different in faith practices. We feel ourselves superior to others, but in light of our inferiority and unworthiness before God our love should “descend” past our egocentrism. If God has loved our fellow Christians to such a degree as to send his Son to die for them, we certainly ought to love them too, even if they want a different color of carpet in the sanctuary.

God Himself has never been fully seen by human eyes, so if you desire to see Him you must look at what He has done for us. As He abides in us in the form of the Holy Spirit His love is made visible as it is perfected in us. Through the power of the Spirit we are able to love supernaturally, forgive unconditionally, and truly let shine His light to the world through our love for others.

If we truly loved others in this way, imagine how the world would change. Last night I knocked out most of our Christmas shopping, spending several hundred dollars. Although I got really good deals, I spent a LOT of money. But how will my family react when it comes to charitable giving this Christmas? When supporting the missionaries and the poor I know we will not come close to matching what we spent on gifts. Oh that God would change our hearts that we value the things of His kingdom and perfectly love one another!

Monday, November 14, 2011

1 John 4:7-10

1 John 4:7-10 - 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. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

John returns to the theme of love. Love comes from God, and if we desire to be like God we too must love. Only those born of God can truly love unconditionally in any circumstance. It is natural to love when it benefits us or is easy; it is supernatural to love when times are tough or people are unlovable. Although we see in our world evidence that those not born of God will at times display sacrificial love, this only affirms that all people are created in the image of God and therefore have the propensity to show his attributes. But to truly love the “unlovable” and express that love in its fullness requires sharing the truth of the gospel and hope of eternal salvation. This can only be accomplished by believers. God himself exhibited this love when he sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins when we were his enemies, offering us forgiveness through his Son’s suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Loving like God is something that definitely takes practice. As we follow God we grow in the fruit of the Spirit, one of which is love. But we can only grow in love when we are tested – when we are put into situations with people who make our skin crawl and our stomachs tie in knots. When you pray for that annoying person at work, the person who has hurt you or a loved one, or someone who is a legitimate enemy then God will change your heart into one of compassion, even if the person’s behavior remains unlovable. If we truly have a saving knowledge of God we will be able to see his image in everyone we encounter. This is truly God within us.

In the darkness of this world of sin - in all the sorrows that come now upon the race, and that will come upon the wicked hereafter - we have the assurance that a God of infinite benevolence rules over all; and though we may not be able to reconcile all that occurs with this declaration, or see how the things which he has permitted to take place are consistent with it, yet in the exercise of faith on his own declarations we may find consolation in "believing" that it is so, and may look forward to a period when all his universe shall see it to be so. In the midst of all that occurs on the earth of sadness, sin, and sorrow, there are abundant evidences that God is love.
- Albert Barnes

Friday, November 11, 2011

I John 4:1-6 - Sermon Snippets

How to Test the Spirits (MacArthur)
“‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit but test the spirits.’ John understands how important it is to realize that you can't believe everything you hear, you can't believe everything that is purported to come from God, you can't believe everything that is supposedly biblical... You cannot believe all who... claim to speak for God and claim to have a prophetic voice… Religious information is not benign... All spiritual truth either comes from a divine source or a demonic source. And we know that God speaks truth and reveals truth and Satan speaks a lie and is a deceiver and so it is critical that we be able to discern the difference. God's truth must be guarded very, very carefully. It is always under attack. It is relentlessly under attack.

“Every generation seems to fall into error. This is why the Apostle Paul instructed Timothy at the end of his first letter to him, 1 Timothy chapter 6 verse 20, ‘O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you.’ And what had been entrusted to him was the treasure of divine revelation... In order to guard that, he says, you have to avoid worldly and empty chatter. You have to avoid arguments that oppose the Scripture, even though they might be called knowledge... Some have professed these things and gone astray from the faith… Here's how he began his second letter to Timothy… ‘Retain… the standard of sound words. Hold on to sound doctrine which you have heard from me… Guard or keep through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us the treasure which has been entrusted to you.’  Literally the good deposit… of divine truth, guard it, Timothy, retain it, hold on to it because it is ever and always under assault.

“It's the guardianship that is so important. We cannot pass on the truth unless we protect it, unless we guard it. There are always false religionists, cultists. There are always those who come along with their deceptive schemes that purport to be biblical, that quote Bible verses, that say they have a message from God, that have a better way to understand the Bible and apply the Bible to make the Bible [and] the gospel acceptable. There are those who in outright fashion attack the Bible and then there are those who are much more subtle than that. But we are constantly being called to the defense of the Scripture and the defense of the truth.

“It requires two things to guard the truth. One, you have to know the truth… You can't guard what you don't understand. If a minister or a pastor does not know sound doctrine, he can't guard it… secondly, it requires the recognition of error. Sound doctrine and sound discernment [are] essential in the church.

“Religious truth, spiritual truth comes from the Holy Spirit and it is life-giving, life-sustaining, life-producing, God-glorifying, or it comes from demons... It is either that word which is sent and energized by the Holy Spirit, or it is that which comes from seducing spirits. And teachers are either the true teachers of God, or hypocritical liars, espousing the doctrine of demons fostered by seducing spirits. We must know the difference because of the malignancy of error because of the power of truth. The truth gives life, error kills.

“The end of verse 1 [says], ‘Because many false prophets have gone out into the world.’ It is a huge problem and the undiscerning are victimized. The vast majority of religious teachers are false teachers… The vast majority of religious prophets and gurus and teachers, and I would even add teachers within the framework of Christianity in its broadest terms, including the false Roman system and all the cults, the vast majority in the dead denominations which have gone liberal, the vast majority of those who claim to know Christ and to represent Christianity are hypocritical liars teaching doctrines of demons motivated by seducing spirits. This is a massive problem. The world is literally drowning in a sea of demonic lies, is it not? People who tell me repeatedly they go to a town, they try to find a church where the Word of God is being taught faithfully and it is very often an almost impossible task. We live in a time then when we must be discerning. We are commanded to be so and the reason is because this false teaching is so common.

“There's one thing demons will inevitably deny in all their demonic systems, and that is they will deny the deity of Jesus Christ. They will deny God in human flesh. In a word, they deny the incarnation… So the first test that you want to have for any teacher is their Christology... their doctrine of Christ which presupposes the doctrine of the Trinity. If you have somebody who denies the Trinity, you have a problem because Jesus Christ cannot be God come in the flesh, the second person of the Trinity in the fullness of what the New Testament teaches about Him if in fact there is not a Trinity.

“The second thing you look for is regeneration… As you listen to what people have to say, you can be discerning because you know the truth. You have spiritual instincts that are right and accurate. You can trust them. When you hear somebody teaching something, and you say to yourself, ‘That is not right,’ that's the Spirit of God, the truth of God kicking in and acting in a discerning fashion on your behalf. As you walk in the Spirit and walk in obedience to the truth, the Spirit of God exercises that protective influence. You are saved because you know the truth and believe the truth. It is the evidence of your regeneration. And there will be in your life the fruit of that regeneration. So, look at their lives. Trust your doctrinal instincts about the gospel. Real false teachers who want to undermine the gospel, attack Christ, they attack the realities of regeneration. And how do they do that? Well their system is always a work system. They're not so concerned about you being from God as a source, but somehow you finding God through your works and ceremonies and religion. It's that divine accomplishment verses human achievement thing that we talked about several times earlier in this gospel. So you test people by their view of Christ and you test people by how they live. Do they manifest, do they demonstrate the characteristics of regeneration?

“[False teachers’] ideas come out of the world and the world is in the lap of the evil one. And when you speak to them the truth of God, they don't listen. They have no affinity for it. They have no capacity for it. They have no apparatus by which they can discern it, understand it, take it in. The world will listen to them. False teachers will have popularity… The vast majority of the world is swept away in false teaching because the world believes false teachers because they're of the same ilk. They recognize their own language. Sinners have an affinity for error. Sinners have affinities for demons, seducing spirits, hypocritical lies because they have no apparatus for the truth… Before you accept any teaching, be sure of their view of Christ, their view of salvation, and their view of Scripture.”

Test the Spirits to See Whether They Are of God (Piper
“The testimony of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer expresses itself in two ways…Love is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and so love among Christians is one way the Holy Spirit testifies of his reality in our lives. When we love each other from the heart, in deed and truth and not just in word, it is the Spirit himself bearing witness that we are the children of God. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God in love are the children of God…

“What is a testimony? A testimony is the presentation of evidence that should help a jury decide the truth of a claim. A testimony is valuable to the degree that it can be counted as good evidence in deciding if a claim is true. The evidence that the Holy Spirit presents to our own spirits and to the community is first of all the evidence of love. The Spirit puts within us a humble heart of love and so gives evidence of his presence and power.

“Believe in Jesus and love each other. These two things are so united in John's mind that they are not two things but one thing, one commandment... So it is not surprising to learn that the second way the Holy Spirit testifies to his presence and power in our lives is not simply by causing us to love but also by causing us to believe.

“We know that there are people who can say true things about Jesus who are not in fact born of God or indwelt by the Holy Spirit. If we paid him enough, we could call someone off the street and get him to make any confession we wanted here in front of the whole church, and it would be no evidence at all of his belonging to God. And Jesus said, ‘Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 7:21). In other words, merely saying right things about Jesus is no sign of the Holy Spirit's presence. So what does John mean when he says in verse 2 that ‘every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God? ’ The answer must lie in what John means by the word ‘confess.’

“In 1:9 John says, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins.’ What does confess mean here? It does not mean merely mouthing the words, ‘I know I am a sinner.’ We all know that forgiveness and reconciliation do not happen when the words of an apology are glib and insincere. If we say to one of our children, ‘Tell your brother you're sorry,’ and he says begrudgingly, ‘I'm sorry,’ it does not achieve reconciliation. The confession must be sincere. It must come from the heart. It must be more that mere words. There has to be a disposition corresponding to the offense committed. Real regret. Real contrition. Then forgiveness and reconciliation can happen. So when John says in 4:2 that the evidence of divine spiritual reality is the ‘confession’ that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, he probably does not mean that the mere words or thoughts are sufficient evidence. Just because people can say that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is no sure sign that they are of God… mere doctrinal words, no matter how true, don't prove anything about the spirit or person behind them, unless the words come with reverence and heartfelt conviction and submission to Christ.

“Verse 6 says, ‘We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.’ So the test of whether you have the Spirit of truth is whether you listen when the apostles' teaching is given… Not just any listening proves the presence of the Holy Spirit. But the humble listening that accepts the truth of Christ and submits gladly to it—that listening is a sign of the Spirit of truth at work in the heart.

“For believers the lesson is twofold.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->1.       <!--[endif]-->Do not take credit for your listening ear or your confessing heart or your correct view of Christ. Give credit to the Spirit who is in you, and give God the glory.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->2.       <!--[endif]-->When you are threatened by any deception of the evil one—any temptation, or discouragement, or anxiety, or cowardice—remind yourself that ‘He who is in you is greater than he that is in the world.’ Almighty God abides within you. Trust him. For this is the victory that overcomes the world, your faith (5:4) in the sovereign indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.”

Spurgeon on 1 John 4
“‘Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world’ (4:1). If John had need to say that in the early morning of Christianity, I am sure we ought to say it with greater emphasis today. It is certainly true in these days that ‘many false prophets are gone out into the world,’ therefore we also must ‘try the spirits whether they are of God.’ A simpleton believes every word that he hears, but ‘the wise man’s eyes are in his head,’ so he examines what he sees and hears, and does not blindly accept whatever may be told to him.

“If there is any question raised about the Deity and the humanity of Christ, do not listen any longer. When you taste the first morsel of meat from a joint, and you find that it is tainted, there is no necessity for you to eat all the rest to see if it is good; and if any man questions the true Divinity and the real humanity of Christ, have nothing to do with him, and give no heed to what he says, for he ‘is not of God.’

“If the doctrine of the incarnation of God in Christ is denied, as it was by the first heretics, we may conclude that the Spirit of God is not in such teaching. Any doctrine which dishonors Christ,-whether in his person, or his offices, or his atonement, or in any other way,-you may at once conclude is not of God, for that which comes from the Spirit of God glorifies Christ. Did not our Lord himself say, concerning the Holy Spirit, ‘He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you’?

“The devil is up early at his evil work; we may sleep, but he never does. This is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ‘ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world’…  If God’s own Spirit be in you, ye need not fear any of these enemies ‘Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world…’ Now that the struggle is between the Spirit of God who is in you and the spirit of error that is in the world, you need have no question about the ultimate result of the battle. There are two spirits; the Holy Spirit dwells in believers, and the evil spirit dwells in the ungodly. But the Holy Spirit is stronger than the evil spirit, and will certainly overcome him.

“When people say to you, ‘Everybody says so-and-so,’ that is not the reason why you should believe it. ‘All the men of advanced thought, — all the scholars of the age, speak thus;’  yes, just so: ‘They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.’

“From the abundance of love which was in John’s heart, we might almost be startled at the very strong things that he writes against those who are in error, did we not remember that it is only a false charity which winks at error. He is the most loving man who has honesty enough to tell the truth, and to speak out boldly against falsehood. It is very easy to pass through this world believing and saying that everybody is right. That is the way to make a soft path for your own feet, and to show that you only have love to yourself; but sometimes to speak as John the Baptist spoke, or as Martin Luther spoke, is the way to prove that you have true love to others.”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

1 John 4:5-6

They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error

In every age the false has counterfeited the truth. The world is drawn to false prophets with “feel good” messages that do not confront their sin nature or require life transformation. Most Christians today choose not to battle false doctrine. We have a “live and let live” mentality. It is popular to believe that all paths lead to God, that all religions are equal, and that there is no absolute truth. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenge of false teachers or outmatched by their rhetoric. But as the preceding verse taught, the battle is already won, so we should not be intimidated in our stand for truth. No matter how we are attacked for our true beliefs we know we are from God and ultimately cannot be defeated. False teaches can adapt their message to what people want to hear, whatever is fashionable and popular. He who is from God will teach truth from God’s word, even if it is countercultural.

The difficulty in communicating the gospel can arise from the fact that we are coming from a different starting point from those in the world. Our worldview, the “glasses” through which we see the world, is based on the truth of Scripture if we are true believers. Others pick and choose whatever suits their fancy. We make decisions based on eternity. Others make decisions based on the belief that this life is all that matters or exists. So to some extent we are speaking a different language through the veil of a cultural barrier. But we must persist in trying to explain light to those who have only experienced darkness.

A. W. Tozer proposed seven tests to employ in “How to Try the Spirits.” If some teaching seems like a “gray area” this may be helpful. The whole text is here, but here are the bullet points.

  1. How does the teaching affect my relationship with God and our attitude towards Him? Does it magnify him or veil his glory?
  2. How does the teaching affect my attitude toward Jesus Christ? Does it make him indispensible or focus on some exciting experience?
  3. How does the teaching affect my attitude toward Scripture? Is it in accord with the Word of God?
  4. How does the teaching affect my self-life? Does it slay my flesh or puff me up with self-pride?
  5. How does the teaching affect my relationships to other Christians? Does it draw me to them or cause me to feel superior?
  6. How does the teaching affect my relationship to the world? Does it lead me to pursue carnal enjoyments?
  7. How does the teaching affect my attitude toward sin? Does it turn my heart away from sin and towards holiness?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

1 John 4:4

You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

What an encouragement! No matter how charismatic, how convincing, or how skilled an orator any false teacher is, you have overcome them as a true believer. Although you may stutter in your speech or be unable to win a debate, the spirit of God in you has overcome the spirit of antichrist in them. The word of God, your spiritual sword, will be your defense. Although you may not be able to turn them from their false beliefs, they will never turn you from the truth of God firmly planted within your heart. If you are a child of God, his Spirit within you will sound an alarm when you are confronted with false teaching. You may not even be able to put your finger on what the false teaching is, but your uneasy spirit will alert you and keep you from being seduced away from the truth.

When we know the Good Shepherd through prayer and scripture we will recognize his voice. We will never follow a stranger but will instead run away, because we do not recognize the voice of strangers.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

1 John 4:2-3

1 John 4:2-3 - 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.

John was confronting teaching that Jesus was either not fully God or not fully man. Some claimed that both coexisted, but that the divine left him just before his suffering on the cross. John minces no words – if anyone does not teach Jesus as fully human yet fully divine then that person’s entire teaching is to be rejected. And John only gives two categories for teachers, either teaching from the spirit of God or from the spirit of the antichrist (a class of people against Christ, not the larger than life end of time figure).

The doctrine of Jesus as fully God and fully man is powerful, even if it is supernatural. If he was not a man, then all his miracles, his teaching, and his agony on the cross were only an illusion with no real suffering, no real shedding of blood, and no real atonement for the sins of the world. If Jesus was not fully God then he was not only a liar in His teaching, his death would lack the divine power to justify us before a righteous God. That the incarnation of Jesus produced human nature in permanent union with the divine is an imperative belief for true Christians. Any religion teaching otherwise is a false cultic group to be avoided.

It would be easy to separate out false religious teachers of our day if this were the only category of dangerous heresy, but even the most charismatic, engaging, and eloquent teacher may have one thing so outrageous in his theology that all his teaching should be ignored and categorized with pagan ideas. Even if there are nuggets of truth contain therein, the risk of such teaching makes it too dangerous to consider. There are many things believers can agree to disagree on – infant baptism, juice or wine, age of accountability, etc. – but doctrinal beliefs foundational to the faith must be standard. And though the means of delivering the message to the society can and should change, the true message can never be watered down or changed to fit society’s whims if it is to be of God.

Monday, November 7, 2011

1 John 4:1

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.

John isn’t talking about Ghostbusters here; to test the spirits means to put your spiritual teachers to the proof of Scripture. “Test” (δοκιμάζετε) means “to prove, discern, or examine.” Few have likely ever believed they were a false prophet, but a tour of churches around the country would put you in contact with many who preach and teach what is contradictory to Scripture. It would be counterproductive to write of the situations of which I am aware, but I see three main problems that lead people to continue to sit under “false prophets.”

1.       People who profess Christianity are often not well versed in the Scripture. And although the Bible can be understood by the masses if they take the time to read it on a regular basis and familiarize themselves with it from cover to cover, you can take verses from the Bible to prove almost anything. For example, it is easier to argue for slavery using the Bible than against it, but I hope no modern Christian would believe that slavery is a part of God’s plan for our lives. And people from both sides of an argument often have verses to back up their belief. Believers would be well served to learn what the Bible says for themselves and not rely on the opinions of others.

The scripture in times of disputes is like an open town in times of war, which serves in differently the occasions of both parties. Alexander Pope

2.       False prophets are usually charismatic leaders. In seminary I had to read many secular books on leadership. I have wondered if some who sensed the “call” to ministry wouldn’t be equally successful using the principles they use to “build a church” in running a business. True prophets of God in this last age would do well to model Christ in servant leadership. No church leader should have their own agenda, but should seek God’s will for the body of believers they serve. No one doing the will of God needs to manipulate through human means.

"No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means. --George Bernard Shaw

3.       People are comfortable and creatures of habit. This one is perhaps most troubling. After months of struggle my husband and I once left a church that had some false teaching coming from the pulpit. Some left the church for the same reason, but many people stayed. The most concerning thing is that many who stayed vehemently opposed the teaching, but only in whispers. Most who disagreed chose to say nothing and stay in a church where they were comfortable with family and friends, even if it meant a lack of spiritual growth in their own lives.

Each epoch has found in the Gospels what it sought to find there, and has overlooked what it wished to overlook. -- Ludwig von Mises

We approach Scripture with minds already formed by the mass of accepted opinions and viewpoints with which we have come into contact, in both the Church and the world. It is easy to be unaware that it has happened; it is hard even to begin to realize how profoundly tradition in this sense has moulded us.”
—J.I. Packer

Dear friends, be careful which opinions and viewpoints you accept as biblical. Often the deceptions are so small that your spirit may not discern it unless you are in tune with the will of God through prayer and personal study of the Scripture. Be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) who received Paul’s message with eagerness but daily examined the Scriptures to make sure his teaching matched God’s Word.

Friday, November 4, 2011

1 John 3:11-24 - Sermon Snippets

Taken from sermons by MacArthur (123), Roy, Spurgeon (12), and Steller

A Fitting Sacrifice
The story of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4) centers around a sacrifice. In the Old Testament God instituted blood sacrifices as the highest form of worship – necessary for forgiveness of sins and the ability to approach God. Abel obeyed, but Cain brought what he himself had planted and harvested. Although there were times that the harvest was prescribed as a sacrifice, context tells us that Cain offered what he wanted to offer, not what God wanted him to offer. “He invented his own religion, and the Lord would have none of it… Cain ‘was of the evil one’ (v. 12). The Greek word translated "wicked one" is poneros. It is stronger than kakos, the usual Greek word for evil. Poneros speaks of evil in active opposition to good - organized evil. A man who is kakos is willing to be evil and perish in his own corruption, but the person who is poneros seeks to drag everyone else down with him. Cain was a child of Satan. That is made evident because he was a murderer… Outward ritual, outward religiosity is no proof that a person is born of God. Cain was a very religious man. He didn't bring the right sacrifice because he had a self-styled religion… he brought the fruit of the land which he himself had toiled to produce and so for him he was going to make his relationship with God based upon what he accomplished, and that never gets you to God (MacArthur).

“The Greek word translated ‘killed’ in v. 12 is sphazo, which means, ‘to butcher by cutting the throat.’ It is used in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) to refer to the slaying of animals for Levitical sacrifices… When Cain and Abel were born, the seeds of death were already implanted in the sins of Adam and Eve. But as far as we know, no one had yet died. That Cain knew how to kill implies he knew God required an animal sacrifice. God instituted a pattern of sacrifice to bring men to himself [when he killed the animal to make a covering for Adam and Eve], but Cain became the first to pervert it and turn it into murder. The human race learned to murder when it was taught to worship” (MacArthur). Cain killed his brother out of jealousy that his brother was accepted by God but he wasn't. There are few people who murder as a way of life, but there are many who harbor jealousy and hatred.

The Test of Love and Sacrifice
The first test of true Christianity John gave us was righteousness; the second is love. The fact that we have heard the command to love one another from the beginning can work against us. “The danger that can rise for all of us is the temptation to stop thinking about love. After all, we've heard that before, we say to ourselves. Let's not spend our time thinking about such basic things. Let's get on to more advanced, more important things… John allows for no middle ground: you either love someone or you hate them. As much as you or I might like to try, we cannot sit on the fence and say, ‘I don't love that person, but I don't hate him either.’ John won't let us say that. Not loving is hating. And hate is tantamount to murder. ‘Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.’ Hatred is the wish that another person was not there; it is the refusal to recognize his rights as a person; it is the longing to hurt or ultimately even to kill him. If I hate somebody, I am no different from a murderer in my attitude toward him. And with God it makes very little difference whether I actually have a chance to carry out the desires of my heart or not” (Roy).

Love is not defined as an attitude or an emotion, but as an act of self-sacrifice. We know God loves us because He laid down His life for us. “Chances are you won't have the opportunity to die for someone, and that's why John added verse 17: ‘Whosoever hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his compassions from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?’ True love isn't confined to dying for someone. A Christian is willing to surrender possessions, comfort, and anything of value if a fellow brother has need. John is not teaching us to give out money and resources to all people indiscriminately… [But] you should be meeting needs within the community of believers. Certainly you can meet needs outside that community as God brings people across your path” (MacArthur).

Sacrifice means risk. In Philippians 2:30 Paul praises Epaphroditus who became sick because "For the work of Christ, he was near unto death, not regarding his life." Do you risk anything in your Christian life, or do you measure it out too carefully? "Do good and to share forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Heb. 13:16). "Let us not love in word," being all talk and no action. "Let us not love ... in tongue," being hypocritical. Love in deed and in truth – in action and in honesty. “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Pet 1:22). “The command is based upon the capacity. [Earnestly] is the Greek word ektenes. It is used of a muscle that is taut, that is literally stretched to its capacity. And he is saying, love as far as you can love, stretch yourself as far as you can go in love. Reach out as far as you have capacity to reach” (MacArthur). “How can we say that we are willing to lay down our lives for our brothers if we are unwilling to part with our money [and time] for their sake? It takes time to be a friend; it takes time to talk, to listen, to relieve loneliness. And for many of us it is harder to part with our time than with our money... But if you or I close our hearts with respect to time towards a brother or sister in need, how can God's love be in us?" (Roy)

“Brothers and Sisters, if we can say that we love God’s people, as God’s people, because they are God’s people, that is a mark that we have passed from death unto life! Do you love them for Christ’s sake? Do you say to yourself, ‘That is one of Christ’s people. That is one who bears Christ’s Cross. That is one of the children of God and, therefore, I love him and take delight in his company?’ Then that is an evidence that you are not of the world” (Spurgeon).

“In the old days of persecution, there were always some noble souls who tried to hide away the Christians from those who sought their lives, although they did so at the risk of their own lives; and many a Christian has given himself up to die in order to save the lives of his fellow-Christians. Some of the old people came tottering before the judge, because they thought that they would not be so much missed from the church as the younger ones would be; and, possibly, some of them also thought that they had more faith than the younger ones had; and if they had more faith, they were more ready to die, and so to let the younger ones live on until they grew stronger in faith, and hope, and love. But, on the other hand, sometimes the young men would gently push back the fathers, and say to them, ‘No; you are old: you had better linger here awhile, and teach the young; but we young people are strong, so we will go and die for Christ’” and there was many a contortion, in the Church of God, in persecuting times, as to who should first die for Christ. They were all willing to lay down their lives for their brethren. Where has this self-sacrificing love gone to now! I would like to see some of it; I would even wear microscopes over my eyes if I thought that I could so discover it; but I am afraid I cannot. Why, if we loved each other now as Christians loved each other then, we should be the theme of the talk of the town, and even worldings would say, ‘See how these Christians love one another’” (Spurgeon).

Our consciences and the assurance of Salvation
“Satan loves to distort our conscience. He does it in two ways: first of all, he loves to silence it, to sear it so that it can lie quiet no matter what you're doing (1 Tim 4:2)… If he can't sear our conscience, he will seek to fine tune our conscience to a perverted view of God. [Some people’s] conscience[s] have long since been seared or are in the process of being repressed into silence. Then there are some whose consciences are very lively but are attuned to a taskmaster God who is impatient... labor[ing] under a blanket of guilt that never goes away [and feeling] depressed and broken and defeated. You confess your sins, but never feel like you did it well enough to actually be forgiven; you look at how you love your brothers and sisters and you feel that it’s never perfect enough to please God. And the third type of people are some of you whose conscience is lively, but attuned to a God who is holy and also compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness. When you fail to love as you should, your conscience condemns you, informing you that God is against your sin. But you thank God for your conscience. It is like those nerve endings that mercifully scream out in pain when something is wrong in your body and needs attention. When your conscience condemns you, you turn to God in confession and you trust the promise that God will forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. If the harm you did is something that can be restored through a word or a deed, you will rely on God's help to be reconciled to the person you hurt. And then your conscience will be quieted, and you will be free to love and to pray once again” (Steller).

“Jonathan Edwards said… ‘When persons are possessed of false affections and think themselves out of danger of hell, they very much put off the burden of the cross, save themselves the trouble of difficult duties and allow themselves more of the enjoyment of their ease and their lusts’. That's what we have in the church today. People are coming and affirming that they've been delivered from hell and since they're delivered from hell, that's all taken care of, they can basically go out and give little regard to the burden of the cross, little regard for the duties that should be theirs as the servants of the Lord and allow themselves the enjoyment of their ease and their lusts. Edwards says this is a dead giveaway of false conversion” (MacArthur).

“Our hearts will experience uncertainty, insecurity, and self-condemnation. But the remedy for that is loving in deed and in truth. And the fruit of love is assurance. The Greek word translated ‘assure’ is peitho, which means "to persuade" or "to tranquilize." If your heart is upset, tranquilize it by reminding it of your deeds of love. No unsaved sinner can have that kind of assurance… Sometimes your heart will condemn you… Sometimes it's right; sometimes it's wrong... I expect things out of myself that the Lord doesn't expect. I can have certain legalistic quirks. Sometimes I get lazy... When your conscience is wrong, reject it; when it's right, confess it. ‘There is ... no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 8:1). When you concentrate on the failures of your life, your conscience will tear down your assurance” (MacArthur).

Confidence before God in Prayer
Do these verses teach us that we have to earn the mercy of answered prayer through obedience? Isn’t God’s mercy unconditional? “A crucial thing for us to learn is the difference between unconditional and unmerited. The mercy of answered prayer like every other mercy is totally unmerited—but according to this verse it is not unconditional. The condition for our receiving from God whatever we ask for in prayer is that we keep his commandments. Our obedience does not earn answers to prayer; it simply puts us in the position to receive his mercy through answered prayer” (Steller).

“[But] If our heart is no longer condemning us [and] we've confessed those sins… we find ourselves with a kind of confidence that causes us to rush into the presence of God and whatever we ask we receive from Him. This is amazing. This might be considered to be presumption. The word here, parrhesia, the word confidence, means boldness, it means freedom of speech. The idea would be to go into the presence of God and say exactly what's on your mind… whenever you tell your children you're going to have somebody special at the house, the first thing you say to your kids is, ‘Watch what you say…’.

“But not with God… if your conscience is clear, there's something in you… that causes you to run into the presence of God and spill whatever is on your heart, right? This is boldness. You don't hold anything back. We have an open relationship, a face-to-face relationship like a loving son to a loving father. We can look into the face of God with freedom from fear, freedom to ask, freedom to give Him anything that's on our heart, absolutely anything and know that whatever we ask we receive from Him, obviously if it's in accord with His perfect will and pleasure.

“This is an evidence of a changed heart. The sinner has no passion to run into the presence of God and unload all the passions of his heart, to speak freely to God. The sinner has no relationship like a loving child to a loving father. But the saint does, the one whom the Lord has regenerated and made His own loving child, knows God as Abba Father, papa, and he knows that anything he asks within the will of God he's going to receive because God has promised to meet all needs” (MacArthur).

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Will we receive whatever we ask of Him?

I knew the question would come up when I read, “Whatever we ask we receive of Him.” But I was tired. There is no answer to satisfy the masses. Life doesn’t seem fair. I can answer it no better than so many who have tackled it in the past. But since the question was posed by my “second mother” I will address it. When true Christians pray for other true Christians, why is there not always healing? Why do bad things happen to good people? My own father who has faithfully served God as a Music Minister has lung cancer, something that seems a slap in the face to a man with a wonderful bass voice so often used for God. My grandmother has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and she is one of the most wonderful examples of a Christian woman on this earth. I can focus on prayers answered – my Dad’s cancer isn’t in remission but there isn’t even anything going on to treat right now, and my grandmother is improving with therapy – but the illnesses are still there. Death and suffering are inevitable for all who tread this realm of mortality. There are times when we all want to scream “That’s not fair!” at the top of our lungs in our best preschool voice.

Ancient Jewish thought was that bad things happened to bad people and good things happened to good people. In Jesus’ day illness was believed to be the result of sin. When Jesus’ disciples pointed out a man blind from birth and asked if the blindness was a result of the man’s sin or his parent’s sin Jesus responded, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Some today, such as Mormons and some branches of Christianity, still believe that trials in this life are a result of sin. And sometimes they are. Drug abuse, sexual sins, anger, wrath, malice, greed, envy – all these sins have an effect not only on the sinner but on others around them. But it is completely against Scripture to teach that enough faith can make anyone well, that trials are always a result of sin, or that if you have enough faith God will bless you with health and wealth. I would boldly place anyone who teaches otherwise in the aforementioned category of “antichrist.”

Most modern scholars believe the book of Job was the first book written in the Bible. Job suffers greatly – losing property, livestock, and all his children – but still praises God. Although his wife nags him and his friends are little comfort he does not give up his faith. His initial response to all the bad news is relayed in the first chapter:

     Then Job stood up, tore his robe and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped,
          Naked I came from my mother's womb,
          and naked I will leave this life.
          The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away.
          Praise the name of the LORD.
      Throughout all this Job did not sin or blame God for anything.

Job’s example of praise through his trials is an example to us all, and his friends’ beliefs that Job must have sinned to bring the trials upon himself were shot down by none other than the voice of the Almighty God.

Will even the prayer of even a spiritual “giant” always heal the sick? The apostle Paul wrote of the illness of Epaphroditus, "For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow" (Phil 2:27). On the other hand, the same apostle wrote, "Trophimus I left sick at Miletus" (2 Tim 4:20). Do you imagine that Paul prayed for Epaphroditus but not Trophimus? Surely he prayed for both men, but one was healed and one was left sick. Paul himself refers to a physical affliction he had as a "thorn in the flesh." We are not told what the affliction was, but he reveals his attitude toward it: “Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (2 Cor. 12:8-9). Paul certainly did not always receive what he prayed for!

Some respond to the question by saying that if your spirit is truly in tune with God you will only ask for things within his will – therefore whatever you ask will be given. There is some truth in this, but not fully. Jesus himself asked the Father to let the cup of suffering pass from him, praying “But not my will, but thine be done.” It is pretty clear that the answer to the first part of that prayer was a no. Jesus suffered far more than any of us ever will, yet he was fully righteous and completely one with the will of God. Sometimes the answer to our desires is simply “No” – no matter how pious the asker, no matter how sincere the prayer, no matter how righteous the request may be.

In Western society we tend to ask “Why me?” I noticed after the Japanese tsunami and nuclear crises that the response of the people was not on why the event happened but on how to respond to the situation. I think the latter train of thought is actually closer to the biblical train of thought, even though it comes from a largely non-Christian society. What can God do through the tragedies surrounding you? Grow your faith? Strengthen your testimony? Bring you and others to more fully rely on Him? If there were no pruning there would be no fruit, but the pruning is painful. We can choose to focus on the painful cut of the shears or seek the way the work of God may be displayed in our life. It is a daily choice – sometimes even minute by minute – but it is one that profoundly affects our walk with God, our relationships with others, and our peace here in earth. What will you choose today?