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TEXT: I John 3:19-23
SUBJECT: I John #10: Be Like Mike!
In my last sermon, two weeks ago, I told you the story of an old friend of mine, named 'Mike', who struggled mightily with the assurance of his salvation. Part of this struggle-I think-was entirely 'natural'. He was an insecure man, felt like a 'loser', and these feelings crept into his faith and made him always anxious about his soul, ever unsure of his Salvation.
I talked to Mike about this many times and at length, but never to any real effect. But I'll never forget the day God did for him what I couldn't. He called me one afternoon, almost shouting with joy: 'I got it!' he said. Got what? He got the Assurance of his Salvation! From where? From the Holy Spirit, of course, but not directly. The Spirit used His Word to bring security to a man who had never had it before. The verse he quoted way back when, was I John 3:14-
We know we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.
The word that warmed his heart was.well, which one do you think it was? It was the word, 'know'-we know, not we think or hope or feel or wish, but know, 'we know good and well' as my parents used to say!
Mike had the same struggles that you do; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life were no more absent in his life than they are in mine! But, for all his failures and inconsistencies and anxieties, he could say-and did say!-
'I know I love the brethren! 'This means I know I've passed from death to life'.
I do not subscribe to the Wesleyan doctrine of a Second Blessing (or any variation thereof), but if I did, my old friend, Mike, would be Example Number One of it, of what it looks like in a man's life. Whatever we call it, this was certainly a breakthrough for him, back in the early 80's, and for many others before and since.
This is what today's New Testament Lesson is about. Remember, I John is about three things: (1) obeying the commandments, (2) loving the brotherhood, and (3) knowing the True Christ. Had he wanted to, John could have left it here: with three commandments, three orders from On High.
He didn't leave it there. The Apostle not only tells us what to do, but why to do it, including some of the personal benefits of doing it. How good the Lord is to us! He doesn't treat us like slaves-who only have to know the Master's will-but as children, who understand some of the reasons for His will and the Father Himself who has dipped His every command in the dark chocolate of Divine Love!
At first glance, it seems John has fallen into the Preacher's Trap of 'rambling'; of writing about one thing, only to break it off with something altogether extraneous to his argument. If you look more closely, however, you'll see otherwise.
In v.18, he clarifies 'love' by-not what you say or feel or intend to do, but what you actually do-
Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
Only as we love in deed are we loving in truth. (Here, I wonder if I'm the only one who feels convicted by talking or wishing far better than doing!).
In any event, the word truth links the two passages. We want to love in truth because, when we do, we can know that we are of the truth.
What all John means here by the truth, I can't even guess at, but it must mean something like what he says back at the start, being-
In fellowship with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ.
John is writing here exactly what my friend Mike told me on the phone that day: 'I know I'm saved because I love the brethren'! Not saved by loving the brethren, but loving the brethren because I'm saved. That what Mike told me 35 years ago, and what John is telling us right now.
Does every Christian feel this joy? Is every loving disciple one of the happiest person on earth? Of course not! Many sincere followers of Christ live in sickening anxiety, too scared to live-and even more scared to die! Why do so many of us feel this way?
John tells us in v.20-
Our hearts condemn us.
By our hearts, John doesn't mean that organ in your chest, but rather, you conscience. The Christian may often suffer acute feelings of guilt and fear, the sense of being, as the song says-
Unprepared to meet thy God.
Why do we feel this way? Sometimes, we feel the angst because we don't know what we're accountable for. I talked to a woman who felt guilty about being molested as a little girl, think that, somehow or other, she had 'seduced Daddy'. She didn't sin; she was sinned against-and you're not responsible for the bad things that people do to you! If 'bad things happening to you' are your fault, then Jesus was the Ultimate Sinner! But the Bible says otherwise. He was/is-
Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.
I'm sure there was some of this 'false guilt' among John's first readers. But I do not think he was thinking mainly of them.
Assuming they read (or rather, heard) the Bible on a regular basis, including the 'law parts', they must have felt the same way we do when we hear them-
We don't keep the least commandment perfectly, and some of the bigger ones we struggle mightily to even kind of, sort of, more-or-less keep. Every one of us is very much-
A work on progress.
Including the people to whom John sent his Letter. Their hearts were condemning them, and the accusations brought against them were largely true! They weren't the kind of people they ought to have been; they were immature, inconsistent, forgetful; in a word, they were a mess. Like you and me. (And my old friend, Mike).
And so, how could these messy disciples feel any confidence in their Salvation? Or rather, how can we?
We can go over the head of our consciences; we can appeal their verdicts before a Higher Court, before God Himself, v.20-
If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.
This is one of the most puzzling verses in the Bible. If I confessed 100 sins this morning, but God saw 100,000,000,000 of them, how can appealing to Him over my conscience possibly come out in my favor? This would seem to increase rather than relieve my feelings of guilt and fear. And not just mine, Psalm 130:3-
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who would stand?
The implied answer 'nobody would'-
There is none righteous, no not one!
So. what's John saying? He's saying the God who sees our every sin, sees something else as well. He sees our union with Christ, by which our sins are forgiven and His righteousness is counted as our own. This is what the prophet means calling God's Branch--
The Lord our Righteousness.
Is this union with Christ a visible thing, something you can see, like a brick? Of course not! God can see invisible things, but we can't. And so, how can we see our invisible union with Christ?
We can see it by the fruit it produces in our lives! Especially the fruit of real, though not perfect, love for the brotherhood.
As I said earlier, Brotherly Love is not the whole of our Assurance; the Spirit Himself-Paul says-bears witness to our adoption, and while scholars differ on precisely what His witness is, I think it is a direct or immediate witness. I got this from the Bible, think, and I know I got it from Calvin, the most important Bible expositor since the death of John, sometime around 100 AD.
But if Brotherly Love is not the complete doctrine of Assurance, it's a substantial part of it. Thus, like my friend Mike back in the day, the deeply flawed disciple who sincerely loves the brethren can not only hope-but he can know-that he has Eternal Life.
.even when his brotherly love is as deeply flawed as he is himself. And Paul says it will be this way until the Second Coming of Christ, when everything from rivers and mountains to your body and soul and brotherly love will be set right, once and for all!
John wants us to know this joy and peace, and that's why he keeps on urging us-nagging us, even-to love one another, and not with what we say only, but also, and chiefly, in what we do.
.things like overlooking the faults of other people or forgiving their offenses, being hospitable, lending them money (and not holding it over their heads till they repay it!); or just thinking about their needs and trying to meet them. From loneliness to poverty, discouragement, incompetence, moral blind spots. As long as we are bottomless pits of need, there will always be plenty of ways to love one another.
ASSURANCE AND PRAYER
By its very nature, the Assurance of Salvation makes us feel better; makes us feel confident in the Presence of God, according to v.19.
This is not all it does. It also frees us to pray-and to pray with the conviction that God is listening to us and will give us either what we ask for-or something better, v.22-
Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
Brotherly love has a way of guiding and purifying our prayers. Without it, all we can think of is ourselves and what we want-good, bad, or indifferent.
We ought to pray for ourselves, of course, but also for other Christians, especially the ones in our own church. We won't do this, however, if we're not daily cultivating a love for them-not a harboring a grudge against them, or just ignoring them-but loving them, putting yourself-and your prayers-into their service. And not just when there's a crisis. For the Christian, every day is a crisis! We wake up every morning with nothing, and get what we need only as God provides it, only as He-
Gives us this day our daily bread.
Such prayers will be heard in Heaven and answered with all the Divine Bounty. This is the whatever of v.22, not Janis Joplin and her prayer-
O Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz.
But like Job, praying for your friends, so that both they-and you-will be blessed.
In case we've forgotten what God's commands are, John tells us in v.23, that they're brotherly love born of faith in Christ.
When it comes to brotherly love, John has set the bar very high, and I-for one-cannot get over it. Have I loved the brethren the way I should have? That's a joke-and you all know it; you've all been on the receiving end of my meanness, my apathy, my self love.
And yet, for all my failures, I believe in brotherly love and want to practice it! Not so that you'll admire me for it, but because it's the right way to live, it pleases the Lord and allows me to sleep at night.
How do I get from where I am to where I ought to be? There's only one way: faith in Christ. Not faith as opposed to effort, but effort produced by faith. Faith in what? Not Christ the Great Teacher or the Perfect Example or Judge of the Quick and the Dead (though He's these things, too), but Christ the Bearer of my sins on the cross! This is how I know what love is in the first place, and what moves me to love Him and-because I love Him-to love others.
It is only as I believe that I'm what the Bible says I am: a Hell-deserving Sinner; and that my damnation was taken off me and put on Jesus, that I can be sufficiently humbled and empowered to love the brethren.
I know most of you have to get up and go to work in the morning, but if you have to stay up a bit later tonight than you meant to, don't spend the time watching TV, counting sheep, worrying about the future, or even praying to go to sleep! Spend that time meditating on the Love of God as demonstrated at the Cross, spend that time believing in that love, and tomorrow, whether fresh or groggy when the alarm goes off, you'll be the better for it. Amen.
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