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TEXT: I John 2:28-3:9
SUBJECT: I John #8: A Three-Trick Pony
If variety is the spice of life, John must have been a very bland fellow. His First Epistle was written to people he knew well and in whom he had more than a professional interest. But read it from start to finish, and you'll find no trace of what you find so often in the Epistles of Paul, bits of personal news-innocent gossip you might say. There's plenty of this in II and III John, but none of it here in I John.
This suggests how worried John was about his dear children in Christ, and how seriously he took the threat of heresy and what it always produces. The Apostle is all business here, and the business he conducts is summed up in three bullet-points: (1) Obedience, (2) Love, and (3) Truth. Whatever else he cares about, these he cares about most.
This makes you wonder about many of the successful Christian ministries of today. What are their bullet-points? Health and Wealth? Peace of mind? Social Justice? Right Wing Politics? I am for some of these things, but I do not think they ought to be the emphases of any church anywhere, at any time!
Standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ, I don't think anyone will be asked about his bank account, her medical records, or what political party they belonged to! But.obedience, brotherly love, and Truth? These will come up-for sure! These are the things that mattered most to John and to his Lord and Savior. They're the things that ought to mean the most to us. One Day they will be! That Day needs to be Today.
In Chapter 2, John has set the pattern. He tells us that those who belong to Christ can be distinguished from those who don't, in three ways-the ways I just mentioned: (1) Obedience, (2) Love, and (3) Truth. Back in Chapter 1, he makes sure we know that our obedience is not-and never will be-what it ought to be. Until we die or Christ comes again, we will always have plenty of sins to confess! Presumably, these sins include not only the direct violations of the Law, but also failures of Brotherly Love and True Doctrine. John is not a perfectionist! Nor does he pass a Final Judgment on any. But he does have some discernment; he knows the people of God-for all our inconsistencies-live, love, and believe in certain ways.
This is what Chapter 2 says, and from here to the end, he says it.again and again and again. Why? Not because he's run short of material, but because these are the things that matter most.
The order in which he puts them also caught my attention-frankly, because I would have done it differently! But who cares how I would have arranged them? John always ranks them in the same way: Obedience is first, then Brotherly Love, then Truth.
I'm not sure why he puts them in this order, but can make an educated guess. Obedience is the hardest of the three! It is much harder for me to submit to the Lordship of Christ than to say, 'Jesus is Lord'. Brotherly love is also really hard, but since I am not always with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I'm not constantly tempted to not love them! But I am constantly tempted to think and do things that I know are displeasing to the Lord-from overeating to laziness, pride, self-righteousness, despair, and a million other things that I can do-and do do!-even when I'm alone.
This is what we have in today's New Testament Lesson: a reminder of our duty to obey Christ in the details of everyday life. Along with incentives for doing so, its method, and the Source.
The word, 'holiness' does not appear in the passage, but that's what it is about. Positively, it is described as practicing righteousness and purifying yourself. Negatively, it is the opposite of practicing sin, practicing lawlessness, and imitating the devil. The topic, therefore, is holiness-not the holiness of Israel which was largely ceremonial and outward, but the holiness of the New Covenant, which begins in the heart and works it way out to the whole of our lives (though not perfectly, of course).
John begins by telling us what's at stake, v.28-
And now, little children, abide in Him that, when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.
In this verse, it is hard to tell who the He is. The context suggests it is God the Father, but the Bible, in general, emphasizes the Second Coming of Christ. But, since the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father, it makes little or no practical difference. What does, is the Coming of God in Judgment!
On that Day, the people who didn't accept God's standards or put any real effort into meeting them, will wish they had! They will be ashamed of themselves!
Their shame cannot be reduced to 'embarrassment', the way a man feels when he realizes his zipper is down! No! It's more like what the family man feels when the police arrest him for child molesting! This happened to a pastor I know about 18 months ago-and now, as the icky details come out in public trial, I cannot imagine what the man feels! Dirty, disgusted, horrified, words fail me.
But his trial in Arizona is nothing compared to the Trial that awaits every one of us-
At His coming.
Here, I cannot help thinking of Bill Cosby, a celebrity for fifty years, America's father in the 1990's, then our grandfather.and now, Sexual Predator Deluxe!
Death might have saved that man from disgrace, but it will save nobody from the disgrace of flouting God's Law your whole life long and then dying in your sins.
Is this what you want in your future? I know some parts of your future have already been planned: retirement, pension, Social Security, but these things are not sure: the Judgment is! And on that Day, no one will be proud of living an unrighteous life-not Hugh Hefner, not you, not me.
THE WAY OUT
The terrible disgrace awaits a great many people, but you don't have to be one of them! John-or rather, Christ-has given us a way out, a way of standing before the Holy God without shame. He tells us what it is in the first part of the verse I quoted a moment ago, v.28-
And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears we may have confidence.
No one can read John without knowing he believes in effort, in hard work, discipline, accountability, and all the rest. But.while God uses these things to mature us, godliness depends on union with Christ!
It is only as we abide in Christ that we can practice the kind of obedience God demands. Good parents, a Christian education, and willpower can make you into a first-rate nominal Christian! But only abiding in Christ-that is trusting Him-and not 'any version of Him you choose-but trusting the Real Christ, as Lord and Savior, only that will make His Second Coming into what the old hymn called it-
What a Day that will be, when my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face-the One who saved me by His grace
When He takes me by the hand, and leads me through
The Promised Land-
What a Day, Glorious Day that will be!
If you want proof the world is upside down, here it is: the only people who fear the Second Coming of Christ are the ones who are ready for it! Those who are not ready, couldn't care less!
This union with Christ is not a 'pie in the sky' sort of thing; it's not merely an Eternal Fire Insurance Policy. It does save us from that miserable future, but it also does things for us now. In v.29, John tells us what-
If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.
This union with Christ-this abiding in Him-produces an obedient life. And, as the last part of the verse hints, it makes us children of God. After all, to be born of God means to be His children, to belong to His Family
The blessedness of this moves John to break off the sermon to praise and thank God for all He's done for us, 3:1-
Behold! What manner of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God!
I'm not sure which word deserves the most time. Behold has got to be one of them because it reminds us that we are prone to get so fixated on ourselves or our problems that we neglect to meditate on the Infinite and Unchanging Love that God has set on us!
Love is another word. God does not love us in the way He loves everyone. His universal love (or common grace) causes the sun to rise on the wicked and the rain to fall on the ungrateful, but His Special, Saving Love does far more than that for us! It remits our sins! It removes our guilt! It reconciles us to God and removes His wrath from us.
Then there's us and we. Not unfallen people, but Fallen; not people who are basically good, though we slip up now and then, but people whose hearts are-
Deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.
On what people did God set His love? On the very people who either did-or would have had we had the chance-demand the release of Barabbas and the Crucifixion of the Son of God!
They are the people God loves, or rather, we are.
Children is the other word I can't let go of. Had the death of Christ made us God's servants-His lowest servants, at that-the blessing would be unspeakable. But God's love did not make us servants, it made us children-and not neglected or abused children, but-
BACK TO BUSINESS: DISAPPROVAL
John can spare only half a verse for praise, then he gets back to business. Because of God's love, we are His children, and because we are His children-
The world does not know us because it does not know Him.
This recalls that we mustn't expect 'understanding' from the ungodly, no less 'approval'. I don't know why Christians have tried to become a victim's group, demanding the same respect that others do. I'm thankful for the respect and toleration we receive, but we must not expect it or demand it or feel sorry for ourselves when we don't get it. The world who crucified Christ would-if unchecked by God's Common Grace-crucify us. And, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, we ought to-
Rejoice in being counted worthy to suffer for His Name's sake.
BACK TO BUSINESS: PURIFICATION
Knowing you're a member of God's family and that the Second Coming of Christ will be the Greatest Day of your Life, will lead you to do something before that Day, v.3-
He who has this hope in him purifies himself even as He is pure.
John Wesley was a great and brilliant man, but on one point he was dumb as a stick! Wesley believed that the assurance of salvation-really knowing that you are saved and will definitely be saved on the Last Day-would promote Christian laziness, smugness, and presumption.
Wesley is now with the Lord and I'm sure he knows better. A lack of assurance can only produce frantic efforts which can only produce despair and giving up!
Knowing that the Pure God is coming is coming to purify you completely, will energize you to obedience and devotion before He gets here!
The illustration I always use is this one: Knowing where you're going will cause you to prepare for it. If you know you're going to work, you pick up your tool belt; if you're going to a funeral, you put on a dark suit; the beach? That calls for shorts and tee-shirts!
If I really believe I'm going to Heaven, I'll become Heavenly minded. This is precisely John's point! Believing you'll see a Pure Savior will make you pure. And not just the few who are able to 'connect the dots' and see how one follows from the others, but-
Everyone who has this hope in him, purifies himself, even as He is pure.
JOHN AND THE GNOSTICS
The whole book of I John is against the Gnostic heretics, but in 3:4-9, he (almost) names names. The fourth verse suggests these people have re-defined sin. Sin is not what the Law says it is, but what they say it is! The Law, after all, is not from God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but from another god, the old-fashioned, bloodthirsty god of the Old Testament.
John knows better. He knows that certain aspects of the Old Testament Law have expired, but the character of God never changes! And besides, our Lord Jesus Christ was far harder on sin than Moses at his angriest! Sin is not what I say it is, what you say it is, what the culture says it is, but what God's Law says it is!
This sin, John assures us, is not gotten rid of in the Gnostic way, that is, by 'knowing the secret doctrines of God', but on the most public act of all-the act that many saw with their own two eyes and that everyone at the time could have looked into for themselves, v.5-
He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.
In the Man Christ Jesus, God was manifest, and by His Sinless Life, Vicarious Death, and Almighty Resurrection, He took away our sins, that is, their guilt and penalty and complete power over us.
No knowledge saves us-especially the so-called Gnostic Knowledge! It is Christ who saves us-and not by teaching us or enlightening us, but dying in our place under the Curse of God!
For reasons known only to God, He has not chosen to eliminate all sin-yet-but He has eliminated its mastery over His people, its dominion as Paul says in Romans 6-7.
This is why people who practice sin, that is sin with a clear conscience and without confessing it on a consistent basis-
Have neither seen Him nor known Him nor are they born of Him.
They belong to the Gnostic church, but not to God's Church! They've been cleansed by Gnostic baptism, but not by the blood of Christ. In other words, combining John and Paul here, they are-
The devil's workmanship!
We can only feel for them, for we used to be one of them. Made in the Image of God, at one time in our lives, we looked more like the devil; we thought and felt, spoke and acted like Him. But now we don't! And not because we tried harder to be good than others, but because-
For this purpose, the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
On the Cross, Jesus Christ did this for us in a decisive and not-reversible way. We can never be too mindful or thankful for it! But now, He calls us to join Him in His work of destroying the devil, first in ourselves, and then in others.
We do this work by confessing our sins, obeying, keeping hope alive in ourselves, and by praying and helping and witnessing to our neighbors. This is God's Work-and He will not share His glory with another!
But He has honored-and entrusted us-to be the means by which He sanctifies the believer and the Church and saves the world. Let us, therefore, re-commit ourselves to practical, daily, and sometimes hard obedience, knowing that we are already the children of God and that our hope in this life and the next is sure!
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