The choir has just sung of our love for God, and that perfectly segways into our text this morning which comes from 1 John chapter 5, verses 1 through 5. Before we read the text together, let's look to God in prayer. Let's pray.
Lord, we are a needy people. We cannot even understand Your word unless Your Spirit comes and gives us illumination. So come, Holy Spirit, and enable us to understand what You have caused to be written here for our profit and for Your glory. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
Hear the word of God. 1 John 5:1-5:
“1Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 4For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. 5Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
Amen. May God bless to us the reading of His holy and inerrant word.
Now there's something very odd here, so odd in fact that every time I read this I tend to think I've read it incorrectly. It seems as though John is now saying backwards, as it were, everything that he said before. In the previous chapters he's been telling us that the way we know that we love God is by asking the question, “Do we love God's children?” And now in chapter 5 he seems to be saying the opposite of that. He's now saying, “The way we know that we love God's children is that we love God.” There's a believer and he's unsure of whether or not he's passed from death to life–“How can I be sure that I love God? I know I must love God. I should love God. I want to love God. But how can I be sure that I love God?” So John says, “Well, do you love God's children?” And here comes the believer and he says, “Well, how do I know that I love God's children then?” And John says, “Well, you know whether you love God's children if you love God.” Right. This is a complicated argument. And John is trying to say here in a fairly complex way, I think, that it's a bit of one and it's a bit of the other. And we are tossed from loving God to loving God's children, and from loving God's children back to loving God in the way that He has commanded. And how has He commanded that we love Him? By loving His children.
I. New Birth
I want to look at this from an entirely different point of view this morning. I want us to try and pick out five terms, five words or phrases, that are to be found in this passage. The first of which is new birth. It's that little expression that you find at the end of verse one: “is born of Him,” or “of God.” It would be better to render it “has been born of God,” because the faith, the belief, of everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, because that faith comes after we are born of God. And John is very particular in the original to put it that way.
New birth, born again–it's not just a buzzword that belongs to a certain group of Christians or to a certain denomination. It's a Bible term; it's a Bible phrase. We need to be as sure in our own minds of what this means and the importance of what this means as anyone in the world this morning. It's what Paul would call “adoption as sons.” John, you remember, had given an entire chapter in the gospel to teaching this fundamental truth.
What does it mean to be born again? What does it mean to be born from above? Chapter 3 of John's gospel–not 1 John now but the gospel of John, chapter 3–the incident where Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, Nicodemus the Pharisee, Nicodemus the great Bible teacher of the day. And Jesus is having a conversation with the great Bible teacher of the day about Christianity 101. What does it take to enter the kingdom of God? What does it take in order for us to be able to see or appreciate the kingdom of God? What does it take for us to be able to understand spiritual things? Because as Paul tells us in Corinthians, ‘The natural man doesn't understand; he doesn't perceive; he doesn't take in spiritual things.’ A man without the Spirit of God doesn't understand these things. So Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, “How do you enter the kingdom of God? How do you see the kingdom of God?” And He says to Him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [or perhaps ‘born from above’] he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Two verses later He says, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus isn't saying this to him simply because he's a Pharisee; He's saying this to him because he's a sinner. Unless God graciously works in our understanding, in our wills, in our minds, in our affections a supernatural work that brings us out of darkness and into light, we cannot see; we cannot grasp; we cannot appreciate the kingdom of God. Do you remember what Nicodemus said to Jesus? Jesus has just said to Nicodemus, “Unless you’re born again, you cannot understand the kingdom of God and you cannot understand spiritual things,” and do you know what Nicodemus says? “I don't understand what You’re talking about.” Jesus is saying, ‘Unless you understand these things…it's indicative that you haven't been born again.’ And Nicodemus is saying, ‘But I don't understand what You’re talking about.’
And I wonder this morning, do you understand what John is talking about here? Have you been born again? Have you experienced that supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings you out of your natural condition and into a condition whereby the Spirit of God dwells in you and you’re adopted into the household and family of God? And you are a member of that family and you’re an heir of God and joint-heir with Jesus Christ? Or are you saying this morning with Nicodemus, “I don't understand what you’re talking about”? Then, friend, listen to Jesus because He's saying, ‘If you don't understand these things, it's indicative that you’re not a member of the kingdom of God.’ You need to be born from above in order to enter, in order to see the kingdom of God. That's what John is talking about here. He's talking about those who have been born again.
The second word that I want us to look at is belief. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” If the first term or phrase is new birth, the second is belief.” Belief is a consequence of our new birth. “ Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” And again in verse 5, ‘The one who overcomes the world is the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.’ ‘If you’re born again, you will demonstrate that,’ John says, ‘by your faith.’ Faith–forsaking all, I take Him. Forsaking all, I take Jesus.
Faith in what? Faith in whom? ‘Faith in Jesus as the Christ,’ John says. Faith in Jesus, verse 5, as the Son of God. A person who is born again is a person who has experienced a divine new birth and manifests that by believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Deliverer, the Savior, the only Savior of sinners. A person who is born again demonstrates that by saying and believing in his heart, in her heart, that Jesus Christ alone is without sin, that Jesus Christ alone lived a perfect life, that Jesus Christ died on the cross of Calvary in my room, in my stead as substitution for my sins, bearing my guilt, my shame, bearing the wrath of God that my sins deserved, that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ defeats all of His enemies and my enemies.
A person who is born again believes that Jesus is the Son of God, that He is the Lord of glory, that He is the only God there is. Paul came to believe that. Paul, a Jew, who had no doubt recited every day of his conscious life the Shema of Israel, “Behold, the Lord your God is One,” and now he comes to confess that this Jesus of Nazareth (born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth) who went about preaching and teaching…this Jesus who died on the cross is none other than the Lord of glory. James–the Lord's brother, the one who wrote the epistle of James, who grew up with Jesus in Nazareth–James knew Jesus when He was six. James knew Jesus when He passed from sixth grade into seventh grade. James knew Jesus in that pubescent period of His life. He knew Jesus as a teenager. He knew Jesus when He was eighteen. And James in his opening verse of his epistle confesses that Jesus Christ, His brother, is God, the Lord of glory.
Do you remember Jesus once asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” A.N. Wilson1 says that “Jesus was a good Jewish lad with a brilliant flair for shrewd moral teaching, and He would've been horrified at the thought of people starting a church and worshipping Him. Jesus certainly didn't rise from the dead. He was a mere man.” That is what A.N. Wilson thinks. But what about you? Who do you say Jesus is? Dr. Barbara Thiering2 lectures on the Dead Sea Scrolls at Sydney University in Australia. She says that “Jesus was a part of a sect who lived in the Qumran district. He was married with three children. Then he divorced and remarried. He didn't die on the cross.” That's what she thinks. But who do you say Jesus is? Bishop John Shelby Spong3–Anglican, Newark, New Jersey–thinks that Jesus wasn't born of a virgin because Mary was raped. Jesus Himself got married and the wedding in Cana of Galilee was probably His. That's what he thinks. But what do you think this morning? My friends, they will answer for themselves on the Day of Judgment when they will see Jesus sitting at the right hand in glory and in triumph. They will answer for their words. But what do you think? Who do you say Jesus is? John says, ‘The one who is born again, entered into the kingdom of God, sees, appreciates spiritual things is the one who believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.’
The third word is love, love, which is another affect of the new birth. There were people who claimed to be Christians in John's time, in our time, but they have no sense of connectedness with brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. ‘By their lifestyle,’ John says, ‘They are declaring themselves not to be born of God.’ John says, ‘Everyone who loves the Father loves His children as well.’ It's the very nature of a child of God to love other children of God.
We've been here before. We've been here many times before in 1 John. So why is John fixated about loving the brethren? Because he heard Jesus three times speak of it in the Upper Room, words that John would never forget. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” “These things I command you so that you will love one another”–Jesus in the Upper Room, the last evening of His life. And John is saying, ‘This is the mark. This is the sign that you are born again, that you have true faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, that you love one another, that you love the people that God loves.’ John isn't saying that you sink all of your doctrinal beliefs and distinctives and simply love one another. That's not what John is saying. John has already implemented in the previous chapter a doctrinal test. And even here he is saying, ‘You've got to believe that Jesus is the Christ, and you've got to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. And that isn't negotiable.’
I think Sinclair Ferguson is absolutely right when he says that “Biblically-based churches find it easier dealing with false teaching. And that they’re often at their worst when dealing with differences of opinion.” He says, “Personal differences can be deadly, dividing the fellowship, sowing seeds of bitterness, diverting attention from central issues; petty, peripheral concerns sucking energy that should be employed in building up believers and in reaching out to the community. How effectively we handle these differences may say more about the biblical character of our church than how we handle heresy.” He goes on to say that “We can never shake hands with a Christian after a disagreement, and say to them, ‘I told you so.’ We must always say, ‘The Lord told us so.’” “Love one another,” John says.
The fourth word is obedience, obedience. The next affect of the new birth is willing obedience. He says in verse 3, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” Notice commandments in the plural. Sometimes when commandment is in the singular it means “the law generally,” but it's in the plural and usually that means that it's referring to the Ten Commandments, the moral code. Christians who are born again love the Ten Commandments. They love the Ten Commandments. Oh, dear friends, they love the fourth commandment on keeping the Lord's Day. Keeping the Lord's Day isn't burdensome because we love God! We love to be in His presence. We love to sing the praises of Jesus. We love to hear this choir sing about the love of God, and they transport us into the very presence of angels and archangels, and we hear their songs.
‘One of the marks of a true Christian,’ John is saying, ‘is that the law is now written upon their hearts.’ Before we become Christian…you know, theologians give it a Latin term, non posse non peccare. It's not possible not to sin–the double negative. When before we became Christians all we ever did was sin, but the one who's become a child of God has now been brought into a new relationship. We’re not perfect yet! No, we're not. We sin every day in thought, word and deed. But there's a desire in our hearts now to keep God's law, and His law isn't burdensome anymore. It's not a law that threatens. It's not a law that condemns. It's a law that invigorates. It's a law that challenges. It's a law that motivates.
In his commentary on 1 John, William Barcley has a story about a lad who's on his way to school. It's in the days before transportation and yellow buses. And he's carrying someone on his back, smaller than himself, unable to walk. And a person says to this lad, “Do you carry him to school every day?” “Yes,” the boy says. “That's a heavy burden for you to carry.” “He is no burden,” he says. “He's my brother.” “This is no burden. He's my brother.” Obedience. And the obedience of a child of God to the commandments of God is not something burdensome. “I delight to do Thy will. Yea, O my God, Thy law is within my heart.”
And the fifth word is victory. Look at how John puts it in verses 4 and 5, “Whoever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith.” Just our faith. Not great intellectual prowess, not degrees in theology, not membership of the deaconate or of the eldership–but simply faith, empty hands stretched out embracing Jesus as Lord and Savior. That's the victory that overcomes the world, that overcomes sin, that overcomes temptation, that overcomes our failures, that overcomes the hostility of Satan. It's our faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is the victory.
Are you struggling this morning? You come to church with the smell of battle upon you. You’re struggling with your self; you’re struggling with sin; you’re struggling with temptation; you’re struggling with that temptation that Ligon mentioned in the reading of Proverbs chapter 5 this morning. Is that where you are, my friend? And you do believe in Jesus this morning and that faith, exercising that faith will be the victory. It's looking to Jesus that's the victory. Maybe you’re struggling with fellow Christians, and sometimes fellow Christians–well, they’re hard to love. “To dwell above with saints above, that will be glory. To dwell below with saints we know, well, that's another story.” Faith, my friends…
Do you see what John is saying? Do you want victory? Don't look to yourself. No, don't look to yourself. Don't look to your attainments. Don't look to your past records. Don't look to your membership of First Presbyterian Church. Don't look to the place that you live in this city. Look to Jesus. Look to Jesus. Do you know what an air-shot is in golf? Some of you do. I know. It's when you swing the golf club but you miss the ball. It's one of the most embarrassing things that can ever happen to you in golf and in the company of friends. Do you know what the problem is? Well, there are many problems, but…a lack of talent for one thing But the principle problem is that you take your eye of the ball. If you take your eye of the ball, it's over.
If you take your eyes of Jesus, you will always fail. Victory comes in overcoming the world in its hostility towards us. Victory comes, my friend, by looking to Jesus. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” May God bless His word to us.
Now let's sing together from hymn # 504, “I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus.”
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
- Jesus: A Life. Ballantine Books; Reprint edition August 31, 1993. A.N. Wilson. Wilson starts off by telling us that everything in the four Gospels is mythological and none of it is historically reliable. He then spends the rest of the book constructing his own historical biography of Jesus, using (of course) the four Gospels as his sources. The real problem comes in the end, when the discussion turns to the import of Christ's life. In these passages, Wilson insists that Christ is not the Son of God. But Mark opens his Gospel by saying "Here begins the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God." And there are numerous other references throughout the Bible to much the same purpose. Again, Wilson insists that there is no evidence for the trinity in the Bible, but in Matthew, Christ says his disciples should "baptize men everywhere in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." And Wilson says that Christ never intended to create a church, but Jesus explicitly asks his disciples in Mark 16 to "Go forth to every part of the world, and proclaim the Good News to the whole creation."
- Jesus the Man: New Interpretation from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Barbara Thiering Jesus was the leader of a radical faction of Essene priests. He was not of virgin birth. He did not die on the cross. He married Mary Magdelene, later divorced. He died sometime after AD 64.
3. Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism : A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. Harper 1992. John S. Spong . Bishop Spong readily admits that one of the major factors that shapes his view of Scripture is its teaching on human sexuality. He begins his book with a preamble titled "Sex Drove Me to the Bible." According to Spong, Paul was a guilt-ridden homosexual. He claims that Paul's pre-conversion hostility towards Christians came from religious fundamentalism and self-loathing. These are the same emotions that cause modern Christians to be so angry about sexual sin today. Bishop Spong denies virtually everything about Jesus that orthodox Christianity has believed for the last two millennia. The virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the atoning death on the cross, the resurrection, the miracles, everything that would verify the biblical claims of Christ's authority and uniqueness are discounted
A Guide to the Morning Service
The Themes of the Service
The focus this morning continues in John's first epistle and its emphasis on the distinguishing marks of the Christian Life. This morning's emphasis is on faith and the victory that ensues as a consequence of our faith in Jesus Christ. We are born again, a new creation, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and desirous of holiness.
The Reading of Scripture
Paul told Timothy “give attention to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13) and so, at virtually every morning service, a minister reads a substantial section of Scripture. The public reading of the Bible has been at the heart of the worship of God since Old Testament times. In the reading of God's word, He speaks most directly to His people. We generally read consecutively though Bible books. Currently, we are reading through Proverbs.
The ministers who lead in prayer during worship at First Presbyterian seek to fill their prayers with Scripture and assist the congregational prayer to God by praying from the heart to the Lord. Through each of the two first prayers today (the “Prayer of Adoration and Invocation” and the “Morning Prayer”), the minister will cover the main points of prayer: adoration, confession, assurance of forgiveness, thanksgiving, intercession, and supplication.
The Psalm, Hymns and Spiritual Songs
God Is Our Refuge and our Strength (Psalm 46)
The hymn is based on Psalm 46 and the words of this psalm lie behind Luther's hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God–every Presbyterian's favorite hymn!
Like a River Glorious
Because believers in Christ are justified freely by God's grace, we are able even to “rejoice in our sufferings.” This beloved hymn reminds us of that great truth, especially in its third stanza: “Ev'ry joy or trial Falleth from above, Traced upon our dial By the Sun of Love; We may trust Him fully All for us to do- They who trust Him wholly Find Him wholly true.” What an encouraging thought that surely is as many of us face trials and difficulties. Perhaps it would be helpful to make a note of this hymn and return to it again and again this coming week. Frances Havergal wrote this hymn in 1874.
I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus
The words are by Frances R. Havergal, written in 1874. She wrote the words at Ormont Dessons, and it was published in Loyal Responses in 1878. This is said to have been Havergal's favorite hymn; it was found in her pocket Bible after her death. The words are disarmingly simple, but profound. We are said to be trusting Jesus for pardon, cleansing, power, and eternal life: “I am trusting Thee, Lord Jesus; Never let me fall; I am trusting Thee forever, And for all.”
Up until this point in 1 John the question has been: How can we know for sure that we love God or believe God or are born of God? The answer has been by the evidence of our love for our brothers and sisters in the church. Love to our fellow Christians has been the test of love to God.
But here in 5:2 is a brand new question. It's so different we are prone to think we must have read it wrong. It seems backward from everything we've seen so far. "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God." Surely he meant to say the reverse, didn't he: "By this we know that we love God, when we love the children of God." But that is not what he says. He says that the test of whether we really love people is whether we love God.
Now all of this seems very odd indeed. If loving man provides the assurance that you are really loving God, and loving God provides the assurance that you are really loving man, then where does assurance start? Where can we find a sure foothold to begin with? How can I use my love for God as a test of my love for man when the question asked me in that test is: Do you love man? All I can say is: That's what I am trying to find out! What is John's solution? Ah, you’ll have to listen carefully to the sermon to know that! That is what I aim to show this morning–John's gospel method of argumentation.
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