Today we start into the home stretch as we begin the last chapter of 1 John. Some of what you will hear today will seem like deja vu, which is o.k. because if you are anything like me you need to hear things a couple of times before it starts to sink in.
Do you know that you have a destiny? We all do. God really does have a plan for the people who are called by his name, who have been washed in the blood of the lamb, who call upon the name of Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
The world tries to convince us that we have a destiny as well. But this destiny is nothing like God’s destiny for us. In fact, it is so anemic it cannot even hold a candle to God’s destiny for his people. The world would have us believe that our destiny is to be rich or important or popular and famous or healthy or well educated, and, in our waning days, to retire and live the easy life.
But this isn’t God’s destiny. God’s destiny for his people is for us to overcome the world! But overcoming the world isn’t just about winning some arbitrary battle, or white knuckling it, putting up with social ills and our own sinfulness until, some day, we make it through and, with a sigh of relief, step into eternity. No, God has called us to so much more.
In this passage today we will learn that there are three essential elements to overcoming:
You gotta have Faith
John starts out by making it clear that he is talking to believers here. That is, those who believe that Jesus is the Christ or the Messiah. Christ is merely the greek word for Messiah. If you truly believe that Jesus is the Messiah then you have been born of God. You cannot believe Jesus is the Christ unless you have been born again and if you’ve been born again you will believe that Jesus is the Christ.
John actually sandwiches this section between two similar statements concerning who Jesus is. He starts with “Jesus is the Christ” and, in verse 5, ends with “Jesus is the Son of God”, both of which are essential to our destiny. It really isn’t what you know but who you know that makes all the difference.
But this isn’t just mere knowledge of Jesus. This is faith in who Jesus is and what he has done for us. It does you no good to do some name dropping in this case. Take a look at Acts 19:11-16.
Did it do any of these guys any good to throw Jesus’ name around, as if his name were some magical incantation? Not at all. It doesn’t do us any good to say “I know Jesus” or “I believe in Jesus” hoping that somehow just saying this will cause us to be born again or have special favor with God.
John started out this epistle by telling us that he and the others saw, heard and touched “that which was from the beginning”. This epistle, indeed the entire message of the Gospel, centers around who this Jesus said he was. You can’t get away from it.
If we are going to be overcomers we must have faith that Jesus is who he said he is.
I verses 4 and 5 we are told:
for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
At first we may be tempted to think that we have to overcome the world, and in a sense we do, but it is more than that.
Take a look with me at John 16:33:
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished” he meant it! There is nothing that you and I can add to the work. We become overcomers through faith in Jesus Christ. We overcome because he has already overcome.
But what does this mean for us? Does this mean we can go on sinning and doing our own thing because Jesus has overcome the world? A resounding no. Although no one would outright admit it, it does seem that this sort of theology has made its way into the church. This teaching goes something like this:
I am a wretched sinner, always have been and always will be. Yet all I must do is have faith in the work Jesus did on the cross and all God will see is his son and not my sinfulness.
Or some other formulation of this thought. Now don’t misunderstand me. There is some truth here. We certainly are not saved by anything inherent in ourselves. We cannot save ourselves at all. When we are born again we are so despite ourselves. Romans 5:8 says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. For whom? Romans 8:29:
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers”
So there is truth in the statement I just recited above. However (and this is a big HOWEVER): This does not mean we can go on sinning. Everywhere in scripture we are told that we MUST STOP SINNING. I do not believe that God is blind. I do not believe that, once we are born again, God says, “Oh look, Brian is watching pornography on the internet again. It’s a good thing I can’t see that and all I see is my Son’s sacrifice. So I really don’t see that sin, I only see my Son’s righteousness”. I don’t think he is saying this at all.
I am not saying that once we are born again we must work to stay born again or that we must earn our salvation. We cannot start in faith and finish with the works of the law. What I am saying is this:
If we have truly been born again our nature will be such that we will WANT to forsake all of our sin and live holy, pure lives for God who sent his Son to die so that we might be free. Free from God’s wrath, free from sin and free to live for God for ALL of eternity.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Do you understand the price that was paid to redeem us? If you truly do understand the price then you can see how ridiculous the thought is that we could go on living in our sin and God would be o.k. with that. He is not o.k. with it. He is not blind to it. He sees it all and it truly does grieve him.
When I say that “God is ok with it” I don’t mean he is ok with sin. Most teachers and preachers admit he is not ok with it. I mean that God is ok with us despite our sin because of Jesus. That he is ok with the fact that we do sin because he knows we can’t change until we die. Because of genetics, or habits or what have you we are just the way we are and we need to live with it.
But I don’t believe this is ever the teaching of Scripture. What I believe the teaching of Scripture says is this: If we continue in our sin, refusing to repent when it is made clear that what we have done or are doing is, in fact, sin, we are proving to ourselves and to the church that something is very, very wrong and that, quite possibly, we have not, in fact, been born again.
Hard? Yep. Scriptural? Yep.
1 John 3:9,10
No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.
I have had people tell me (and this is also something I’m seeing taught in churches): “We are all sinners, and since we all have sin we are struggling with we have no right to tell others to stop sinning or that they might not be saved because of their continual life of sin. Therefore we need to just love one another and worship God together and let God deal with the sin”
Do you see where this is going? If there is sin in our midsts I shouldn’t address it because we are all sinners. This is so unbiblical I hardly know where to begin.
I don’t have time to address all of the wrongness with this sort of theology but let me ask you this: If I murder someone does it mean I cannot tell others that murder is wrong?
Doing so may mean I’m a hypocrite but it certainly doesn’t mean I’m wrong. But beyond that I am told two things by Scripture:
Stop sinning myself and tell others to stop sinning. I MUST do those two things. I cannot ignore sin in my life or anyone else if I am to call myself a disciple of Christ.
I shouldn’t be standing up here saying “stop sinning” when my life is full of sin. But even if I did, that wouldn’t make my statement wrong. Scripture is truth whether spoken by the devil himself or the most humble saint.
Do you know the bible doesn’t tell us to get born again? On the day of Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit descended and filled the disciples and Peter gave his speech thousands of people asked, “What must we do?” in Acts 2. Strangely enough Peter doesn’t say, “Get born again”. He doesn’t say, “Say this prayer after me and you will be born again”. He doesn’t tell them to fill out a card or raise their hands or walk up front to the alter. Not that these things are necessarily wrong if understood correctly (which they aren’t most of the time).
When asked, “What must we do?” Peter says, “Repent! and be baptized everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. He was telling them “Repent of your sins and do what Christ commanded you to do, be baptized”.
This message of repentance is essential to the gospel and to being a follower of Christ. If we have faith in Christ and have been born again then we must forsake all of our sins and follow the Messiah who came to do what? Save me? Yes, but much more. 1 John 3:8:
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
If we want to truly be fulfill our destiny and to be overcomers we must have faith in the Jesus who has already overcome the world. Not an empty useless faith, but a faith that is alive. A faith that can be looked at and touched. A faith that has consequences and whose effects can be felt. Which brings me to love:
Who ya gonna love?
Previously John told us that we must love our brother (and sister). He told us
1. If we don’t love our brother we walk in darkness (2:9,11)
2. We are to lay down our life for each other (3:16)
3. If we love each other we can know we are born of God and to not love one another is proof that we do not even know God (4:7,8).
4. If we love one another God abides in us (4:18)
5. And to say we love God but at the same time hate our brother or sister makes us a liar (4:20).
John, in our text, caps all of this off by stating things in a very unique way. You expect John to write, “You can know you love God if you love your brothers and sisters”. However John actually writes, “You can know you love your brothers and sisters if you love God”. He completely flips it on its head. Commentators have difficulty with this passage but, like most of Scripture, we can understand it only if we take John to mean exactly what he said and accept it.
Whereas before we are told we can know we love God if we love one another, here John is telling us that we cannot claim to have a true love for our brothers and sisters if we don’t love God first. If you try to love anyone outside of loving God supremely above all else, you will be doing your brothers and sisters (and everyone) a disservice for two reasons (maybe more, but there are two I wish to point out for now)
1. You will be giving to them something that does not belong to them.
“for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God...” Deuteronomy 6:15a
God will not tolerate being second best. He expects to be first. Always. This is why the first great commandment is “Love the Lord your God”.
2. True love for one another comes as a consequence of loving God. If you say you love your brother and sister and do not really love God then that so-called love has a different origin, a different source other than God and therefore isn’t true love.
Without God empowering you and I, filling us, daily, hour by hour, with his Holy Spirit, teaching us and guiding us we can never love our brothers and sisters the way God wants us to. The only way we can love is to give ourselves over to the God who is love (1 John 4:16). Only then will we be in a position to love those around us.
Again, let me make it clear, both this verse in our text and the rest of 1 John, indeed the rest of Scriptures, teach us one truth: “If you say you love God and hate your brother, you are a liar and you are in darkness” And now the invers: “You cannot say you love your brother or sisters unless you first love God”. The one truth is this, “Love is an essential to a relationship with God. We cannot fool ourselves. A church that is full of backbiting, bitterness, jealousies, competitiveness and contentiousness isn’t really a church. A believer full of these things isn’t really a child of God.
Being an authentic church, an authentic believer actually has substance to it. It isn’t just a confession, it is a lifestyle. You cannot have one without the other and still call yourself a Christian.
This brings me to my final point:
James 2:26 tells us “...faith without works is dead”. In fact, let me read 2:14-18 as well
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
We are not saved by works and I don’t believe James is advocating a works based salvation. What he is saying is exactly what John is saying. If you have faith there will be actions as a result of that faith. You cannot have one without the other.
John says, “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome”
Not “burdensome” here means that they are not oppressive. That is, God isn’t asking us to do anything over the top, beyond our ability. Now let me clarify that. I don’t mean just anyone can obey God’s commandments. However we are not just anyone. We have been born again, made new creatures, been given a new heart, and we have been filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit. So now we can keep his commandments.
In our text John is emphasizing the two greatest commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. But there is a broader view in mind here. I won’t go down a big list here of do’s and don’ts. Besides, I’ve pointed out already, in previous sermons, that checking off a big list isn’t very effective. What is effective is this: If you have been born again, if you truly do love God, you will long with all of your heart to do EVERYTHING God asks of you. It will be your delight! And you will desire to never do ANYTHING that God does not want you to do. I would go so far as to say it would be your fear to do anything God does not want you to do. Not that you are scared of God but that you love him so much, you are so delighted in him, you are so enamored with him that you desperately don’t want to do ANYTHING ever at any time that would dishonor him or make people see him in any other light than the perfect, precious, lively, awesome, beautiful, delightful God and Savior that he is to you.
There is where I see greatest threat currently in the church today. I see leaders and congregants excusing sin by saying, “God loves me”. That is true. But I ask you today, “Do you love God?”. Yes, he loved us and saved us while we were still God haters. But he saved us so that we we could love him and through that relationship he could be glorified. Do you love God? Then keep his commandments.
Overcoming the world
Do you want to be an overcomer?
1. Have faith that Jesus is who he said he is and that he has already overcome the world.
2. This faith is not dead but alive. Prove it. Love one another and love God.
3. Do you love God? Then obey his commands for they are not burdensome. In fact, if you truly do love God these commands will be your delight.
Let us pray.