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TEXT: I John 3:24-4:6
SUBJECT: I John #11: Abiding in Truth
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits!
I wonder if any Psalm has been sung-or disobeyed-more often than this one. We all agree that the Lord is worthy to be praised, and that He has Daily loaded us with all benefits. But how often-really, honestly-how often do we count our blessings? People in the Bible meditated on them every day, morning, noon and night, seven times a day, even through the night watches. The Psalmists were mindful of God's blessings, and somehow found the time in their busy schedules to count them one by one, and thank the Giver of every good and perfect gift. We ought to be like them-
O, that men would praise the Lord
for His goodness!
And for His wonderful works
to the children of men!
What are you thankful for? Your health, your children, your job? Maybe for the forgiveness of your sins or the sure hope of Heaven? These are things to be grateful for, and we ought to be more grateful than we are. But here's something that, perhaps, you haven't thanked God for.
Since its founding on Christmas Day, 1965, this church has never been touched by heresy. Oh, we've had our share of doctrinal differences, of course, but they've all been on relatively minor points. No one has ever preached heresy from this pulpit, and-as far as I know-no one in the congregation has ever talked it up or even secretly believed it.
How do you explain this? Why haven't we been caught up in Theological Liberalism or swept away by the Prosperity Gospel? It would be flattering to say, it's because your pastors are such brilliant and stalwart men! But, of course, we are not. The reason for our doctrinal fidelity is God! From the winter of 1965 to the summer of 2018, we have been-
Kept by the power of God!
This is something to give thanks for! Not to gloat over, not to congratulate ourselves, or to feel sorry for the poor saps who go to other churches. But to be thankful for. In an infinitely lower sense, what our Lord said of Himself can also be said for our pastors, both current and past-
I have given them Thy Word.
Not infallibly, of course, or with perfect balance, as He did, but nonetheless, His Word. Mistakes? Yes, plenty of them. But not heresy. Not in the past, and (God help us!) never in the future. For this we sing with Toplady-
The glory Lord, from first to last,
is due to Thee alone;
Aught to ourselves we dare not take,
nor rob Thee of Thy crown.
God's Flock has fed on green grass-and not hemlock-only because-
The Lord is our Shepherd!
And our Shepherd loves His sheep, as mangy and stubborn and wandering as we are.
The Lord's past mercies suggest more to come. But they do not guarantee them. He doesn't fill up our pantries with a year's worth of food, but-
Gives us, this day,
Our daily bread.
This brings us to the dire warning of I John 3:24-4:6. The reality, cunning, and danger of heresy--and our victory over it through the Presence and Work of the Holy Spirit.
The body of the sermon is taken from the first six verses of Chapter 4, but the topic is introduced in the last verse of Chapter 3. We'll start there.
Now, he who keeps His commandments abides in Him and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
The Epistle is about the Assurance of our Salvation, which will be discovered, maintained, and improved on as we obey God's commandments, love the brethren, and know the truth about Christ. Had he left it here, we might think that, while Salvation is the work of God, the Assurance of Salvation is our own work. Nothing could be further from the truth-
Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of Lights with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
If you have ever lacked Assurance, you know what a good gift it is, and if it is good, it has to be from God! We don't have anything we have not received! And if we have the Assurance of our Salvation it is only because God has given it to us!
This brings us to what's called the Economic Trinity. You know God is Three-in-One, with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being-
The same in essence, equal in power and glory.
But if God is Three Persons in One Godhead, the Three Persons don't get in each other's way. Each does a particular set of things to save us from our sins. The Father wasn't crucified, for example, the Son was not poured out on the Day of Pentecost, and so on.
What role does the Holy Spirit play in our Redemption? John hints at it in v.24: He lives inside of us and His Presence enables us to believe in Christ, love the Church, and keep the commandments. Paul develops this elsewhere, but by mentioning the Holy Spirit at the end of Chapter 3, he now turns our attention to spirits that aren't so holy, 4:1--
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Who or what are these spirits that so worry the Apostle? Some scholars say they're demons or lying spirits, and-in the first draft of this sermon-that's what I thought. But a more careful reading makes most scholars think the spirits John has in mind here are, actually men inspired or misled by demons. This is what I also think, though it doesn't make that much difference.
Thus, if the Holy Spirit is moving John (and others) to preach the One True Christ, the devil, or technically, the Spirit of Antichrist is moving the heretics to preach a False Christ, or rather, Many False Christs.
This makes you wonder: Why would the devil preach any Christ at all? You'd think he would ignore Christ or say He never existed, or that He's a superstition, maybe a Jewish fable.
Well, of course, he does this too. But this kind of false teaching only works outside of the Church! Inside the Church, you need to name Christ and bless His holy name, and only then-when you've got the ear of His disciples-then, you can subtly re-define Him, make Him into what He isn't, into what you'd like Him to be, rather than what He truly is.
This is what the spirits or the false prophets, or what we'd call Heretics, were doing in Asia Minor near the end of the First Century. They were preaching Christ-not even John preached Him more than they did-but the Christ they were preaching was not the one John remembered, the Christ he had--
Heard, seen, and handled with his hands, the Word of Life.
Heresy. This was the gravest danger to the Early Church, and to the Church always and everywhere. Including our own. John does not want us to be naïve; he won't let us think, 'It can't happen here'. It can. And to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
TESTING THE SPIRITS
Heretics are always cunning, and usually intelligent, with dynamic personalities. John knows what he's up against! It is not the Learned Apostle vs. the Stupid Heretics, but brilliant men on both sides.
Were all the people John wrote to well-educated? Of course not; most of them were not well-read and a good many of them were illiterate. But for all their natural disadvantages, John assumes they've got what it takes to-
Test the spirits, whether they are of God.
John believes his people are discerning enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. You have to wonder what gives him such confidence in them. Why does he think that, oh let's say, the children in those churches can see through the heretics? He spells it out for us in v.4
John believes his people will recognize heresy when they hear it because, they-
Are of God.
This means they are 'born of God'; in other words, we're the children of God. And, while God's children are ignorant and wrong-headed about a great many things, we know our Father and our Elder Brother, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Take a two-year-old girl, for instance. She has never read a book or understood a sermon. But if you try to convince her that a stranger is, in fact, her father or her big brother, she'd know better! She wouldn't go to him, even if he looked something like them. At two years old, she'd know her father and her brother. And so, when the heretics switched a False Jesus for the True Jesus, John assumed his little children could tell the difference.
But even though John feels confident his people will not be taken in by the heretics, he still urges them to beware. Our security in Christ does not-and must not-be taken as permission to let down our guard. The spirit of Antichrist was already at work in John's day and will keep on working till the Second Coming of Christ. We need to respect our danger, while, at the same time, rejoicing in our Savior.
If it is the Spirit Himself who guarantees our security, He does so through the use of means. John names it in vv.2-3-
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.this is the spirit of Antichrist.
If every heretic was a creep, it would be so easy to identify them. Of course, they're not. We don't recognize heretics by what they are, so much, as by what they teach, or, as here, by what they don't teach!
The heretics of John's day were Gnostics, men who believed that the material world was not created by God and is evil by nature-not fallen into evil (as the Bible teaches)-but evil from the start; it is an evil world because it was created by an evil god who is not-
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This was the fundamental plank in the heretics' platform. Because of this belief, they had to deny the full humanity of Christ. Some said Christ did not really become a man, while others said the man Jesus wasn't really Christ. Either way, it denies some or all of these cardinal truths: (1) Christ existed before His birth; (2) In time, He joined the human race; (3) He died on the Cross;
4) He rose from the dead; and (5) those who believe in Him will also rise, having a share of His Resurrection and its glory.
Did all of them spell out all of these terrible heresies? I don't think they all did. But, whether they meant to or not, every one of these blasphemies (and more) is inside the confession-
Jesus Christ has not come in the flesh!
At this point, I feel obliged to give the devil and his servants their due: You don't overthrow the faith, destroy the church and send people to Hell by advocating Infant Baptism, denying the Plurality or Elders, of fussing over the details of the Millennium! Such things are not irrelevant, but they're also not central to Christianity. Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is!
If we had the time, I'd show you that all the early and worst heresies in the Church were about Christ. Why? Because the devil knows you don't bring down the Temple of God by tearing off a shingle or throwing a rock through the window. You bring it down by pulling out the Chief Cornerstone!
This is what the devil was trying to do in the First Century and still is! This is why we need to test the spirits-and not by how they make us feel, or how impressive they are, or learned, but by laying them alongside the Straight Edge of the Gospel.
In light of the number and cunning of the heretics, not to mention our own gullibility and weaknesses and sins, you might think they'd have the last say, that the devil would win and hold the field.
This would be altogether mistaken! Because, while the battle involves us and the heretics, neither is a main combatant. The real foes are Jesus Christ and the devil. It is they who are, even now, slugging it out, fighting for the soul of the Church. At time, it seems Hell has got the upper hand.
But it only seems this way. John is concerned for his people, but he has no doubt that they'll come out scathed, but victorious, for-
He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world.
The world here does not mean 'the earth'; it means the System of the World, it means people untouched by God's grace, and energized by the spirit of the age, who is the devil himself.
John was an eye-witness of all the devil could do to a righteous Man. He was at the cross, when our Lord Jesus Christ was brutally put to death, stripped naked, mocked, crowned with thorns, and all the rest. He was there, standing alongside our Lord's mother. He knew good and well what the devil was capable of.
But he also know what the devil could not do. He could put Christ in the tomb, but he couldn't keep Him there! For John was not only an eye-witness of the Crucifixion, but also of the Resurrection. It was he who outran Peter and saw the place where they had laid the body of Jesus. It was he who heard the strange reports from Magdalene and her friends. Best of all, it was he who saw the Lord in the Upper Room and he who recognized Him at the campfire on the beach.
In the first verse of this Epistle, John tells us he saw and hard and his handled the Word of Life. And not only before He rose from the dead, but after, as well!
This Christ, the apparent Loser who became the Final and Irreversible Winner is, by His Spirit, living in all His people, keeping us from the evil one and preserving us from soul-destroying error.
The key to seeing the truth and through error, therefore, is not so much study or thought, listening to sermons or reading books, but rather-
Christ in us, the hope of glory.
He comes into us as a spirit of adoption-and as the Spirit of Truth-first when we believe in Him, and then, time after time, as we seek Him and ask Him to re-fill us. Except for Billy Graham, John RW Stott was the most important Evangelical leader of the 20th Century. He was a brilliant man, well-educated, with an aristocratic air and the common touch both. But in his little book, The Baptism and the Filling of the Holy Spirit, he said he's not ashamed to tell us that he begins every day asking the Holy Spirit to fill him. We would do well to follow his example.
For it is only by the indwelling Spirit, who is the Spirit of the Crucified and Risen Lord, that we can know the truth, keep the commandments, and love the brethren. Amen.
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