Am I Legit? (1 John 2:3-14)
Note: On Sunday, October 5 we had technical difficulties and were unable to record the sermon. Therefore, I've posted my sermon manuscript here - you'll see the manuscript is an odd combination of outline and manuscript... I've changed almost nothing before posting it here.
Our passage opens with this line: “By this we may be sure that we know him…”
1. The Question: This topic statement assumes this question on reader’s hearts: Do I really know him?
a. People in John’s church, in light of the recently shattered relationships they’ve experienced over the question of what is true about Jesus, are now shaken in their confidence.
b. In other words, if those people who had such leadership and influence were wrong about Jesus, how can I be sure that my knowledge of him is genuine? If their belief is antichrist, and doesn’t lead to salvation, is my knowledge of him saving?
c. Let’s just say it straight: the purpose of this passage is to equip us to honestly and accurately determine if we are genuine believers or if we are counterfeit – and, frankly, to guide believers to help one another make that determination. John’s whole letter draws the boundary lines around what we often call “genuine saving faith.”
d. We’re going to examine this question today: Why we don’t ask it, why we do,
2. Why we don’t ask the question
a. The world’s reason – relativism, the unassailable authority of the individual, the belief that every person can access the divine somehow on his/her own. We live in a world dominated by
i. Individualism – what’s true for me is true for me. One should never ask “how can I be sure that I know?” because what I know is inherently true because I know it.
ii. Pragmatism, which redefines truth from something that is aligns with objective reality to something that works. Philosopher William James said that something is true if it has “cash value in experiential terms.” A common example of this is the flexible idea of a “higher power” in AA and other 12 step programs.
iii. Both of these work their way into the church. Jesus used the image of a farmers field that had both wheat and weeds in it to confirm to us that the body of Christ always contains some who claim to have a right relationship with Jesus when in fact the Jesus they believe in is a useful creation of their own imagination. But in our norms, it is incredibly offensive to question is someone actually believes in the real Jesus.
b. The church’s reason – a twisted descendent of the Reformed position of “perseverance of the saints.” – “Once Saved always saved.”
c. John never says:
i. You know if you say you know! (a)
ii. You know if you ever thought you knew (b)
d. I lament this reality; I lament that I’ve utilized the “once saved always saved” idea to put a band-aid on someone’s honest searching. We miss a big opportunity in someone’s life if we don’t engage this question. It is an opportunity for growth! The question itself is the work of the Spirit.
3. Why we do ask the question… or why we should.
a. Moral failures (one time biggies or ongoing addictions) – if we are continually defeated by shame or ongoing sin, how can we know that Jesus won the victory over sin?
b. Suffering in our own lives (life got worse after conversion, body is failing, money or plans aren’t working)
c. Intellectual questions (suffering in the world, the fate of those who never heard, etc.)
4. How we know the answer: Obedience, Christ-likeness, Love, and The Testimony of Others
First, Obedience (verses 4-5)
a. “I have come to know” is the verb “to know” in the perfect tense. That means the action has been completed in the past and has ongoing impact. It we said “I knew him” then we’d be saying we met him once but don’t know him presently. But this verb says the introduction was profound and the relationship continues.
b. And if such a person “does not obey his commandments” then John simply says it is impossible that such a person actually knows him. What that person is… is a liar.
i. Perhaps we could easily assess our situation by examining the two commandments upon which Jesus says all the others hang: love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.
1. In simple terms, Jesus says the first and greatest commandment is to genuinely love the Lord your God with every element and detail of your being – your body and your thoughts, your words and your deeds, what you eat for breakfast and how you treat the annoying guy at the office who grinds your gears.
2. Maybe I don’t even need to go into the mountainous command of loving your neighbor as yourself to prove that this question of whether we really know him hits close to home. This commandment has been demolished by the self-help interpretation of this that says “ah, so you have to love yourself to love your neighbor” – that’s not what Jesus is saying. Loving your neighbor as yourself means that you find as much joy and comfort and satisfaction in the success of your neighbor as you do your own; that you mourn and thrash and seek relief in cases of your neighbor’s suffering as much as you would your own.
c. Let’s put this into a simple statement: to know God is to obey him. A friend and former staff member here at the church, Julie Miles, often said “to know him is to love him.” This is, in fact, the way John clarifies his statement – the very next “whoever” repeats the concept of obedience and ties it to the full experience of God’s love. It’s worth asking why.
i. There are plenty of people I can say I know – some I know quite well – who do not affect my life choices in any significant way, even if they were issuing some sort of mandate toward me (“you absolutely have to read this book”). What’s different about God? For many people, namely those who John is calling liars, there’s nothing different about God.
ii. Maybe it’s that when we know him we have an understanding of his rewards and punishments. Many of us tend to shift and conform our lives when we meet someone who has something we want, or has the ability to take something away. Consider employers. When we’re seeking a job and we have picked out an employer, we’re ready to do whatever they ask us to do – even to attempt to change our lives to make this idea of a job work. I’ll avoid the bunny trail exploring the reality that such changes rarely stick.
iii. We must not forget that John has known Jesus. He saw him walk on water and multiply the bread and fish. He saw him glow on the mountain top. He saw him endure arrest, torture, and crucifixion. And he saw him after he had risen from the dead. What I’m saying is that John has departed from the idea that Jesus was merely an influential man – he is not someone you can know without it impacting your life. Further, I’m arguing that John is not in this moment primarily considering the rewards or punishments described by Jesus. No, he has experienced the truth: To know Jesus is a reward in and of itself, and once someone has a genuine glimpse, they will seek the reward of Christ himself with every detail of their lives – or they will reject him entirely. No one, John says, could possibly have an active and continuing intimate relationship with Jesus while still living on his or her own terms.
d. What would allow you to say you “abide” in him? The word abide is itself a powerful image. We abide in an abode. The word has recently become less figurative and more literal – we often say we can “abide by” a rule or a concept. That means we’re willing to live in light of it, we’re willing to act in accordance to it. If you “abide by” the speed limit, you never exceed 25 MPH when you’re in downtown Littleton.
e. But John here says “abide in” him. Outside of one reference in the Psalms (61), we find this image on the lips of Jesus in John’s gospel, once in chapter 6 and extensively in chapter 15. The only way to abide in an abode is to live in it. A dwelling is an abode – you can visit someone else’s dwelling, but only one is where you can go over and over again with no question: your own. To visit is not to abide. You abide in the place you rest, the place you have sacrificed to have. You have to move out of another place in order to abide in a new one.
f. Consider Psalm 61:4 – the Psalmist prays “let me abide in your tent forever, find refuge under the shelter of your wings.”
g. But, of course, we are not talking about a house. We are talking about a person. John recorded Jesus’ words, inviting his followers to abide in him. But this is far more mysterious than packing up your belongings and moving to a new dwelling. In a very real sense it challenges Jesus followers to transfer the identity forming power of their home to their Lord.
Third, Love for Brothers/Sisters (vv. 9-11)
h. Consider our passage as a whole. What commandments does John mention when he contends that we only know God if we obey them? What is the nature of our “walking as Jesus walked?” John takes a moment to identify the fact that he is talking about a commandment that is both old and new: it is old because God has always asked this of his people, and new because it is possible in Christ in a way it never could have been before. In short, I’m saying the test of love, which follows on the heels of these tests of morality, is John’s application of what has come before. How can you be sure that you know God? How can you know that you are abiding in Jesus? Simply: do you have hatred toward someone who, like you, has been adopted into the family of God?
i. But wait. We cannot give ourselves a pass with too narrow a definition of hatred. Yes, we are familiar with the brand of hatred that comes out in insults and violence toward a person, the sort of hatred that separates from someone the way we separate ourselves from a trashbag in the kitchen with rotten chicken inside. But hatred has a much longer reach. Hatred is found in the absence of justice – we hate those whom we cannot forgive. And the hatred is deep and strong when you find yourself saying: I’m trying to forgive him, but I can’t. Why? Because the void in you seems to be impossible to fill.
j. And when you hate a brother or sister in this way, you are refusing to grant the sacrifice of Christ as a sacrifice for their sins the way you’re dependent on it for your own – you are rejecting the perfect justice of God, and when you reject God’s gift of justice in part, you have rejected it in whole – for this justice is wholly transformative.
Fourth, the testimony of others (vv. 12-14)
k. Look at verses 12-14 for a moment. I’m working with several excellent commentaries on this passage, and all of them are trying to figure out what to do with the different age groups John mentions – they wonder if these age groups are actual generations in the church – the from children to older adults; or if these groupings are about spiritual maturity that may or may not be connected to age – children are new converts, fathers are mature leaders, etc. Frankly, I’m fine with either one – in fact, I celebrate them both, because it is an encouragement that the best way for us as a church to edify every person of every age and every maturity level is to study the Word- there are no passages in the Bible from which we graduate and are done with at some point – each one takes us deeper.
l. That question of who he’s talking about misses the point. He’s just equipped them to discern if their faith is legit… now he responds and says: I’ve seen, and it is!
m. A paradox of Christian maturity is that as we grow into Christ, we may believe we are getting worse – more and more aware of sin. Here the encouragement of others is crucial.
Illustration: Maxine DeNaut
Many of you know that we gave our first daughter the middle name “Maxine” in honor of Erin’s grandmother. Maxine was a kind lady and an excellent grandmother for Erin and her brothers, but resisted surrender to Christ for most (key word, most) of her life – despite the constant prayers and petitions of my in-laws. One day, out with her daughter (Erin’s mom), Maxine was buying a pair of shoes. The shoe salesman was apparently a friendly and chatty fellow, and before long, he was talking to Maxine about Jesus. She was surprisingly open. She bought her shoes and left, and as they were climbing into the car, they were surprised to see him running out into the parking lot after her. He asked her if she’d like to give her life to Jesus right then and there… and to my mother in law’s shock, she said yes!
Maxine didn’t have a lot of time left in her life to grow in faith, nor did she have the ability to engage in a church – her faith remained a seedling for the rest of her life. But there was a moment when Erin and her mother knew that Maxine’s conversion was genuine: out of the blue, she announced one day with surprise that she had finally been able to forgive her sister – a sister with whom she had been feuding for decades with what appeared to be no hope of reconciliation. Maxine did not have the benefit of encouragement from extensive time in the word, or among other Christians, or being challenged by sermons or bible studies. But her simple relationship with Jesus bore its good fruit – I am convinced that the first and greatest sign of Christlikeness is the ability to forgive. She died two years after her conversion when she was 92, one week before Erin and I got engaged.
I’ll be honest; I would be surprised if Maxine had the time or the capacity to have a conversation about the fruit of the spirit, or the tests of faith, or even about Jesus strong words regarding forgiveness. But the seed of Christ bears the fruit of the Kingdom: reconciliation.
“Only if we obey him can we claim to know him, not to have accurate information about him merely, but to have become personally acquainted with him.” Stott
And so our time has come to join together in the greatest act of love between Christians: to commune with one another in Christ, truly by communing with Christ. That is the nature of this meal. But the Bible rightly calls us to examine ourselves before we would come to this table. Yes it does: 2 Cor. 13:5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test!
Do not risk celebrating the sacrifice of Jesus if you are not willing to apply it to yourself. And you have rejected it. Are you in the faith – abiding in Christ? Is Christ in you? Charles Spurgeon gives a brilliant illustration of this. Imagine standing with a group of people around Noah’s Ark. You may be able to admire the sturdiness of the wood and the craftsmanship of the boat – believing it can float. But Spurgeon responds: “It was not believing the ark as a matter of fact—it was being in the ark that saved men, and only those that were in it esaped in that dread day of deluge. So there may be some of you that say of the gospel of Christ, “I believe it to be of a particular character,” and you may be quite correct in your judgment… but mark, it is not having a orthodox faith but it is being in the faith, being in Christ, taking refuge in him is in the ark; for he that only has the faith as a thing as extra, and without being in the faith, shall perish in the day of God’s anger; but he that lives by faith, he who feels that faith operates upon him, and is to him a living principle; he who realizes that faith is his dwelling place, that there he can abide, that is the very atmosphere he breathes and the very girdle of his loins to strengthen him—such a man is in the faith.”
And Christ in you is nothing less than receiving his sacrifice. Consider the way Jesus says we take him into ourselves in order to abide in him: John 6:56 says “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Come and eat, and abide in him.