Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Authentic Church: Love you can rely on

[Text: 1 John 4:13-16]

Our text today tells us four things about abiding in God:

First,  that it can only come by the Holy Spirit living His life in us.Second we must come to know and testify of the truth.Third, that there must a life confession of who Jesus is.Fourth, we must abide in his love which is a result of the first three things.


Be filled, testify, confess, love

First,  abiding in God can only come by the Holy Spirit living His life in us.  This however can only come about when one has truly been born again.  This seems to be a no brainer for most of us, but nonetheless it is a vitally important point.  Many false teachers today are teaching a different gospel and trying to convince people, including Christians, that one can have a relationship with God and not be born again.  

I recently read an article where the author, I believe a Wesleyan, was trying to make a particular point and started off by arguing that much of the bible was morally reprehensible and should be ignored.  He went on to further argue that the only real standard of biblical truth should be human reason and the guidance of culturally accepted standards.  This is actually quite a popular teaching in the Church today.  This is important because if we can’t trust the Bible then we can pretty much define born-again as anything we want.

However, Christianity isn’t a cafeteria plan.  You can’t just pick and choose what you want.  There are things in the Bible that are hard to understand and most of the confusion we run into is certainly due to the fact that God is God and we are not.  The bible strives to show us this throughout its pages and if we don’t grasp that fact we will always be trying to invent a god, made in our own image, that suits our tastes.  Tastes that are based upon  a capriciousness that is so inherent in sinful man.

If you don’t want to accept the entire picture that God has given us of Himself that is fine. You don’t have to.  But do everyone a favor and don’t call yourself a Christian either.  You simply cannot be.  I am so fed up with running into people who call themselves followers of Christ and do whatever they want, whenever they want, as much as they want to whomever they want all the time claiming the Bible isn’t really the Word of God, that Jesus wasn’t really who He said He was, attempting to rewrite history and redefine the meaning of Church and the body of Christ. When God offers the gift of Salvation it is an all or nothing proposition.  Period.

When we are born from above we are given the gift of God Himself living inside of us as the Holy Spirit.  And this is where things get interesting.   We are told that we know we are abiding in God and He is abiding in us by this Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.  

Let me take just a second to say something about the Holy Spirit.  He (not it or she) is God Himself.  We don’t worship three gods, but One God that is, at the same time, three persons.  How is this possible?  I don’t know.  I don’t care.  I know it is the truth because the bible tells me so.  The same bible that tells me that God is so much bigger, better, greater, and more awesome than I am and as such may actually be able to do things that I don’t understand and so I just need to get over it.  Some people aren’t going to like that answer.

It has been taught for a long time in churches, thanks mainly to the influences of the 17th century and what erroneously has been termed the Age of Enlightenment, that human reason is king and we must be able to make a full, intellectual, logical, scientific assent to the message of the gospel before we can be born again.  This is a lie. Bristle all you want at this, but it is simply not true.  

No, I don’t believe you have to commit intellectual suicide to follow Christ (as I have mentioned before), and there is a place for intellect, logic, science, etc., when it comes to the bible and God’s message.  I would hate to have a bible translation based on what the translator “felt” it should say as opposed to what the texts really said based on solid translation work which itself is based on the sciences of linguistics, philology, archaeology, sociology and others.   

However, let us not forget what the bible itself says about the gospel.  It is foolishness to the rest of the world.  In fact, we are told that the method God uses to draw people to Himself is through the foolishness of preaching.  So we have a foolish message presented through a foolish method to convince people to be fools for Christ.   Enlightened?  Sure, but not by any standard of this world.

So we must be born again, the Holy Spirit living inside of us, all this based on the truth of the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Spirit will confirm our abiding in God and God abiding in us. Yet in our text John doesn’t appear to be simply talking about some sort of confirmation, a deep knowing that we are living in God and God in us.  This certainly may be a part of the idea, but I don’t believe it is the main part.  Turn with me to Romans 8:16:

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God...” 

Here we see that through the interaction of the Spirit of God with our own spirits we have some sort of confirmation that we are the children of God.  But let’s rewind a bit and and grab some context for this verse starting in verse 12

This witness is a real witness, not simply a word or acknowledgement.  It is a witness that can be seen, felt and heard.  It causes our hearts to cry “Abba! Father!” where once we cried, “Me, what about me?!”, it causes us to want to do the right thing where once we rejoiced in doing the wrong thing; It causes us to seek, love and bask in the light when once we wallowed in darkness and loved it.  It fills us with a love for God and our neighbor where once we only had, ultimately, love for ourselves. The witness here is something real that starts on the inside and exudes and pours out of us.  I am reminded of the words of Jesus:
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38 ESV)

To emphasize this turn with me to another passage.  Galatians 5:14-25.
 Just like the passage from Romans we see here that the Spirit confirms in us His presence by who we are not just by who we say we are.  Do you want to know if you are abiding in God and God abiding in you?  Then what is the witness of the Spirit?  Are you walking after the flesh or after the Spirit?  Do you love God and His kingdom or do you love the world and the things that are in the world; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life?   

Judge yourselves by the perfect and holy standard of the Word of God and not by your reason, intellect, culture, friends or family.   2 Corinthians 10:12 warns us: “...when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.”  God, not man, is to be our standard and this is what the Holy Spirit will witness to.

This leads right into the second point, we must see and testify of the truth (v 14).  Here John doesn’t appear to be talking about just himself or his contemporaries who physically saw Jesus, but rather that he along with everyone who has the Spirit of God living inside of them are certain of the truth they are proclaiming with their lives.  But this testimony isn’t just verbal.  It is practical.  It is lived out. 

There is an expression, “You are what you think”.  There is a lot of truth to this expression.  The bible puts it this way, 

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.(Luke 6:45 ESV)

We can make all the grandiose, flowery confessions we want, but what you are inside will eventually make it to the outside.  Jesus called out the religious leaders of His day out on this account.  He said:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”  Matthew 23:27 (ESV).

If our testimony is going to be true it will have to manifest itself in our love for God and for one another.  There simply is no other way.  

A lot of effort is being made by churches today to reach out to a culture that does’t know God and doesn’t want to know God.  The problems I see developing in Churches, however, is based on an assumption that this is somehow a unique situation.  Our culture has ALWAYS rejected God and has ALWAYS not wanted anything to do with Him.  That is what the bible AND experience teaches us.  The bible tells us that even so we must continue to preach the word of God to a wicked generation.  However, many churches are taking the approach that the best way to deal with the situation is to become like the world and try to convince them how cool the gospel is.  What I see as a result are churches that don’t look a whole lot different then the world.  

I have nothing against hanging out with the world.  Jesus hung out with religious leaders, prostitutes, farmers, fishermen, tax collectors, insurrectionists and drunkards.   But mark this: he did not become like them.  He told them exactly the way it was.  He did not stop preaching the message God had sent Him to preach.  And frankly, these people he hung out with were just as responsible for His crucifixion as the religious leaders were.  

The testimony of the Holy Spirit living in us and we abiding in Christ will and must set us apart from the world around us.  Yes, reach out, love, care, listen, laugh and cry with a culture that hates God and is dieing to go to Hell, but never forget, God lives inside of you and that testimony will set you at odds with a World that does not know Him.

Third, we must confess that Jesus is the Son of God.  This, like the first point, may on the surface appear a bit trite.  After all, what sort of Christian does not confess this? But making this confession honestly, from the heart, involves a lot more than pushing air from our lungs, through our throats and out of our mouths.  We are told by Scripture: “None is righteous, no, not one;  no one understands;  no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;  no one does good,  not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV)

None of us, not a single one of us would be making this confession without it being revealed to us from above.  Now by this I mean an honest confession and not through deceit.
This is something that scripture clearly teaches us. Turn to Matthew 16:13-17.  Jesus knew exactly where Peter got this information and He told him so.  It was not from Peter’s amazing intellectual and reasoning capabilities. It was from God, completely outside of Peter.

This shouldn’t surprise us for Scripture teaches us:

 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:63-65 ESV)

Do you see what our Savior is saying?  If God the Father had not said so, if He had not revealed himself to you, I would even say, if He hadn’t changed your heart, replacing your old stony one with a new heart of flesh, you would not be making any such confession as “Jesus is the Son of God”.  You would still be living in your sins.

What a great privilege it is for us to be allowed to make such a confession.  What a great and wonderful privilege to even say the beautiful name “Jesus”.  The name that is above all names by which every knee shall bow and every tongue confess!  Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!
It isn’t just a phrase or a bunch of words, it is a reflection of what God has done in our hearts, minds and lives.  It is who we are now as opposed to who we were then.  We are children of God, new creatures who, although once God haters, are now God lovers and confess with all the other believers throughout all of heaven and history: Jesus is the Son of God!
That’s what this passage means.

Fourth and finally we must live in the love God has for us.  Our recognizing what God has truly done in our lives, that we would not even be here if it weren’t for His awesome grace and mercy, our (literally) God given ability to testify through our lives that Jesus is our Savior and the Saviour of the World and to confess that Jesus is Lord, all of this should propel us into His arms afresh every single day. 

 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;  his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning;  great is your faithfulness.  (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV)

 This knowledge should fill us with so much love for God that we would gladly give up everything and anything to follow after Him.  It should lead us to actually want to be Holy just as He is Holy.  Do you have this desire, brothers and sisters?  Is this what you want?   

When  you hear someone use the Lord’s name in vain, the name of our precious Savior who called us when we would not nor could not even listen, does it wound you?  

Do you see  R or even PG-13 rated movies, and see people are in bed together or happily talking about subject matter that no child of God should ever be listening to, and do you feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit?

 I will not set before my eyes
  anything that is worthless.
 I hate the work of those who fall away;
  it shall not cling to me.
(Psalm 101:3 ESV)

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. (Ephesians 5:11-12 ESV)

Does the sound of the game or the T.V. drown out the sound of the Holy Spirit’s gentle, still voice calling you to your prayer closet?

Do you reach for that magazine or book, no matter how godly you may think it, over the very Word of God?

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Psalms 119:103
When you are called to go worship with the rest of God’s saints, a privilege denied millions upon millions of people who have not been called, do you grumble and complain.  Is Church for you just another thing to do?  
The psalmists writes:
 I was glad when they said to me,
  “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” (Psalm 122:1 ESV)

Is this your heart today?

This love for God should also lead us to love one another.  We spoke last week about Jesus’ example and how He died for us even while we hated Him.  How is our love for one another?  The bible tells us that without holiness no one will see God.  Let me tell you that without love for your brothers and sisters you will never see holiness anymore than you could claim to be holy while at the same time not loving God.   

Let’s pray.

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