Yesterday I preached from 1 John 4:1-6 in continuing our series through John’s epistle. As we read John’s statement—”test the spirits,” we immediately sense the urgent call to biblical discernment. Not only is this essential for the churches surrounding Ephesus in John’s day, but it remains the same for our present day as well.
John used the vocabulary of assurance in different ways at least 30 times in his short epistle. He is not the apostle of ambiguity—he is driving the people to grasp a true biblical assurance of their faith in the risen Savior Jesus Christ. However, beyond moving the Christian community to a place of assurance is his desire to defend the faith—namely, the doctrine of Jesus’ deity from the false teachers who were assaulting the deity of Christ.
Suddenly, at this juncture, we are reminded that doctrine matters—and the strength of discernment is directly connected to the depth of doctrine. Everything from church membership to missions is built upon a firm foundation of biblical doctrine. Without a robust grasp of what you believe, you will end up making life decisions through a lens of pragmatism and this leads to a shallow and unhealthy life. For those who would suggest that doctrine is for the esoteric elite seminary classroom as opposed to the local church, we must test the spirits.
John says, “test the spirits” – so here’s a question to consider:
- Do you believe that a demonic spirit would want the church to be less serious or more serious about doctrinal teaching from God’s Word?
- Do you believe that the Holy Spirit would want the church to be less serious or more serious about doctrinal teaching from God’s Word?
The church in John’s day was to stand opposed to the assault on the deity of Christ. In our day, we continue to experience land mines and attacks upon key Christian doctrines from all angles through the Internet and other media outlets. How can we stand against the false teaching of Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn if we lack doctrinal depth and biblical discernment? What about the false teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and other modern day cult groups? Can you accurately defend the faith once delivered to the saints?
Immediately, we are left with a healthy reminder that the Holy Spirit would never lead a church to lower the seriousness of biblical teaching in the context of the local church. Discernment is necessary to navigate the paths of this present evil world. The depth of doctrine will also directly impact the moral standards of a local church.
John says, “test the spirits” – so here’s a question regarding moral purity:
- Do you believe that a demonic spirit would want the church to be less serious or more serious about moral purity?
- Do you believe that the Holy Spirit would want the church to be less serious or more serious about moral purity?
It’s abundantly clear that the Holy Spirit would be driving us to pursue holiness, but it’s the work of the devil to cause us to lower standards in order to enjoy sin, experiment with immorality, and to be entertained by the very things that God hates. The Holy Spirit is not leading His people in that direction. Discernment matters.
Yesterday, after returning from a lengthy ministry trip to Europe, I was privileged to be reunited with our local church for corporate worship. I preached from 1 John 3:11-24 in our ongoing series titled, “Know.” As you know, John the apostle used the word “know” some thirty times in his epistle. Therefore, he was not the apostle of ambiguity.
True Christians Love One Another
The message that the church has heard from the beginning was centered on the true gospel of Christ that results in a genuine love for the whole church. Rather than a love for one area of the church or certain favorite people in the church—we are called to love one another genuinely. Nothing else will suffice.
John opened up his letter with the idea of genuine fellowship (κοινωνία) that is shared among the people of God. The church, being unique in the sense that people from all different backgrounds and socioeconomic levels assemble together under the banner of the gospel of Christ. The church stands out in the community as a unique assembly.
John speaks about how we should not be like Cain, who murdered his brother Abel. Cain was a religious man and out of jealousy he turned on his own brother. He provided an insufficient sacrifice and with anger in his heart after being exposed by God—he cut his brother’s throat and slaughtered him. He is the example not to follow.
True Christians Care for One Another
John wants his readers to understand what true Christianity looks like. In order to do so, he begins with the Founder—Jesus Christ. John points out that Jesus laid down his life for us. This is the central message of the entire Bible. We read in 1 Peter 2:24 that Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree. In Galatians 3:13, we read that Jesus was cursed for us in order that we would be redeemed. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, we read that Jesus was made sin for us in order that we might become the righteousness of God.
John then moves his readers to examine the truth of real Christianity. It moves well beyond just an intellectual comprehension of facts about Christianity. Many people have known the Bible, but they did not know the God of the Bible. We too often think that the Bible teaches us that we must be the world’s food pantry and the word’s humanitarian care group. While we are called to extend help to the hurting and we often do so with food and clothing, we are to begin with one another within the context of the local church before moving out to the community.
True Christians Have Confidence before God
Every person has a conscience, but this conscience does not lead us to God. Your conscience is created by God and has a distinct purpose to accuse or excuse you. Every child of God needs to have a clean conscience before God. If you are taught Christ properly – you will want to obey Christ faithfully. If you have an improper view of Christ – you will likely live in a loose manner that’s disconnected from faithful obedience.
To live in sin is to live in doubt. True Christians should not be found in a perpetual state of doubt. Listen to what John MacArthur stated about the conscience:
“Our culture has declared war on guilt. The very concept is considered medieval, obsolete, unproductive. People who trouble themselves with feelings of personal guilt are usually referred to therapists, whose task it is to boost their self-image. No one, after all, is supposed to feel guilty. Guilt is not conducive to dignity and self-esteem. Society encourages sin, but it will not tolerate the guilt sin produces. But the answer to dealing with guilt is not to ignore it – that’s the most dangerous thing you can do. Instead, you need to understand that God graciously implanted a powerful ally within you to aid you in the battle against sin. He gave you your conscience, and that gift is the key to bringing you joy and freedom.”
If you find yourself in a steady state of doubt and despair regarding the state of our soul—don’t ignore it. It may not be the devil attacking you. It may be God using your conscience to accuse you and through the gospel—bring you to faith in Christ alone.
The proof of genuine Christianity that leads to a clean conscience is found in a person’s genuine acceptance and belief in the gospel that leads to genuine love for one another in the context of a local church. If you claim to believe the gospel but have little care for the local church your faith and practice are inconsistent and contradictory. Examine yourself to see if you are in the faith.
Yesterday morning, we continued our study through 1 John in our series titled, “Know.” I preached 1 John 2:28-3:10 and it’s abundantly clear that the older and wise apostle was not interested in allowing his readers to remain in a state of spiritual ambiguity. He pressed them and provided sobering contrasts to help them evaluate their own soul. We must do the same in our day. Take time to consider these three important questions derived from this section.
When Christ Returns—Will You Be Ashamed?
John points to the reality of Jesus’ return and presses his readers to abide in Christ. He then moves on to make the point that assurance is rooted and grounded in the practice of righteousness. Nobody can have assurance of their salvation if they practice unrighteousness.
On the flip side of the coin is the reality for those who practice unrighteousness. All such people will be plagued with doubts and if they’re part of the fellowship of the local church community—they should be in a state of unrest spiritually. No true Christian will find peace in sin.
Is Your Hope in Christ Alone?
John then asks his readers to “see” what kind of love the Lord has shown to us. The Father has loved us in a “wonderful” way. The Greek term used by John is only used six times in the New Testament and always implies a state of amazement. We should be amazed and stand in awe of God’s amazing grace that has been lavished upon us.
John then goes on to say, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). The Father has loved us in a marvelous way through the Son, and our hope rests in Christ alone. No other hope proves to be true outside of Christ. That’s the grievous error of the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine of works. They add to the work of Christ and point people to hope in Christ plus their own merit. Consider the following errors of the Roman Catholic Church:
Necessity of the Church for Salvation:
“Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation,” (CCC 846).
Necessity of Baptism for Salvation:
“Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude…” (CCC 1257).
Mary’s Role in our Grace:
“Her [Mary’s] role in relation to the Church and to all humanity goes still further. ‘In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace’” (CCC 968).
“We believe that the Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven to exercise her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ” (CCC 975).
What Is the Fruit of Your Life—Righteousness or Lawlessness?
John the apostle then makes the sobering contrast between the children of Christ and the children of the devil. He will not permit anyone to remain in the shadows regarding their soul. He points them to light or darkness — Christ or the devil.
The apostle Paul did the same thing in his letter to the church at Corinth. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 – “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?  What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
 Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
 and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.’”
The Christian cannot continue in an unbroken pattern of willful sin. The tenses of these verbs are present – which has the idea of continuous action. The Christian cannot keep sinning with an unbroken pattern. Why? Christ has changed his heart and he will not have a desire to keep living in sin.
Although a Christian will sin, will make mistakes, will fall at times, the point is clear—the Christian no longer enjoys his sin. Through a life change that takes place as the work of God in regeneration—the Christian is born of God (born again) and suddenly has a new appetite and desire to love God.
Do you want to know why so many people who claim to be born again are continually practicing sinful rebellion and lawlessness? It’s because they saved themselves through religion – (walking the aisle, praying a prayer, or getting baptized). They equate that as their salvation! That’s why they are full of religion and the devil at the same time. Listen to what Jesus said about those who practice a life of sin (lawlessness).
Matthew 7:21-23 – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Yesterday morning we continued our series through 1 John and I had the privilege of preaching 1 John 2:18-27. In John’s typical style, he bounced back and forth in a compare and contrast method to establish the clear difference between real and false Christianity. As people were attacking the deity of Christ in his day, John warned about those who seek to deceive and he likewise pointed to the clear doctrinal roots of such deception.
When I was a boy, my grandmother once shared a little rhyme with me that still to this day has stuck in my head. She said, “Birds of a feather flock together.” This is true on general levels among social groups in our culture, but it’s also true regarding true Christians. One of the clear ways to see the difference between real and false Christianity is based on the associations of people. Those who love Christ will love the local church and be committed to the people of God. Those who deny Christ and walk away from the true gospel will be those who are outside the local church or those who are on the peripheral who try to lead others astray.
Five different times in one verse (1 John 2:19), John makes a clear distinction between “they” and “us” as he points to the reality that those who are antichrist in their thinking or have been influenced by the false doctrines of those antichrists who have gone out into the world will walk away from the church. John uses the word “us” five times to reference the necessity of the local church for the Christian community.
John likewise pointed out that the true Christians possess knowledge (1 John 2:20). This body of knowledge is the clear doctrines of Christ and the clear doctrines of the faith. Apparently the true Christians in John’s day were characterized by their knowledge. Compare that fact with the lack of knowledge that many professing believers in the evangelical church today possess. Today’s evangelical church is far more excited about going and doing as opposed to reading and learning. When the average cult member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses knows more about their cult than the average evangelical does about the true gospel—there’s a serious problem.
Too often we see churches getting all organized and excited about social gospel service projects:
- Digging wells
- Providing shoes for the poor children in Africa
- Purchasing school supplies for an entire school district here in America
Often those same churches are far less excited about learning biblical truth. When we stop and evaluate the ministry of Jesus and the apostles, we see that Christianity has always been a preaching and teaching ministry. Jesus’ ministry is often believed to be a healing and miracle ministry, but as you read the Gospels, it’s apparent that he spent much time preaching and teaching the Word of God.
Mark 1:21 – And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching.
Mark 1:39 – And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Mark 1:27 – And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
Mark 2:2 – And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.
Mark 2:13 – He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them.
When we read the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20, we see that Jesus sent out his followers to make disciples of all nations and to baptize those disciples in the Trinitarian formula. However, the commission doesn’t end there. It goes on to say that we are to be teaching the disciples of Jesus. How can one be a disciple if he refuses to be a learner? John makes a clear point in 1 John 2:24 as he writes, “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.” All true Christians will continue in the true doctrine of Christ—to the end.
Doctrine matters. God has revealed himself to us with words, sentences, and paragraphs in a book. To know God involves time to study and discern true biblical doctrine from the text of holy Scripture. This knowledge does not produce arrogant “big headed” Christians who are so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good. Instead, the knowledge gained from the pursuit of knowing God will produce passionate Christians who desire to love God and love people — including those within the church and those who need Christ outside the church.
Zeal without knowledge is merely a train wreck waiting on a place to happen. Knowledge without zeal is abnormal and not healthy. True Christians will learn to balance the knowledge gained from pursuing God and their zeal to go out and serve Christ faithfully. Before we can rightly serve God we must first rightly know God. Doctrine matters. True Christianity is not fueled by a mindless approach to following Jesus.
Yesterday I preached from 1 John 2:15-17 in our series titled, “Know” on Sunday mornings. The focus of the sermon was in line with John’s overall goal in his letter—biblical assurance. In this passage, John provides a clear imperative regarding this present evil world and how the children of God are not to be entangled in the love of this world.
John begins by writing, “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:!5). John is not aiming for legalism or moralistic therapeutic deism. John’s aim is the gospel and out of the gospel-centered life flows a heart that is so in love with God that he will despise the world. John is the apostle of “black is black and white is white.” He is not interested in anyone staying in the gray areas of life.
Interestingly enough, over the years I’ve heard people make comments such as, “That person is so heavenly minded that he is not earthly good.” Although I’ve heard people make comments like this, I’ve yet to really meet someone who was so focused on heaven that he was good for nothing here on earth. However, through the years I’ve met plenty of people who were so earthly minded that they were no good for heaven.
John moves on to a very important condition. He writes, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). In other words, if a person claims to be a follower of Christ and is filled with the love for the world’s system, the world’s rebellion, the world’s sin, the world’s treasures—such a person will not have the love of God in him.
It doesn’t matter how many bumper stickers a person has with the gospel printed on it, or T-shirts, or bracelets, or how often they put Christian quotes or Bible verses on their social media platforms—if a person loves the world they don’t love God.
James 4:4 – You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
As John closes out this section, he points to the allurements of this present evil world. He writes, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:16-17).
The desire (or lust) of the flesh is the depraved desires of the human mind and body that find their satisfaction in the world. This could involve anything that comes as a result of the seed of depravity. The love of murder, the love of sexual immorality, the love of money are just three popular examples. John insists that such sinful cravings do not come from the Father. Instead, they come from the world.
The desire (or lust) of the eyes involves the flirtation and consideration that a person has with the present evil world that eventually leads to the actual sin itself. Consider how Eve looked to the forbidden fruit before she ate it in the Garden of Eden. Consider how Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom long before he moved into Sodom. The world would love to dance through the eye gate and lure you away. John provides a caution here for everyone to consider.
The pride of life involves the arrogant attitude of life that boasts of the world’s pleasures and the world’s goods. Many people live by the false assumption that you only have one life so you must live it up here in this present evil world. That’s simply not true. All people have another life awaiting them—either in heaven or hell. John provides this caution in order to prevent people from experiencing a horrible fall.
John then points out that those people who do the will of God will abide forever. In other words, whoever repents and clings to the finished work of Christ alone will inherit eternal life. Perseverance in the gospel is necessary to receive eternal life.
Are you a Christian? Do you love the world more than you love God? You cannot serve two masters. Paul Washer once said, “In America, in typical American contemporary evangelicalism…we have a great majority of the people claiming to be Christian but they are living like devils. But, because they claim to be Christian and they identify themselves with Christ, and yet live like devils, God’s name is not praised because of them, God’s name is blasphemed because of them.”
Yesterday I had the privilege to preaching 1 John 2:12-14 in our series titled, “Know.” As I worked through the text, which happens to be one of the most debated sections of John’s letter, something was very obvious. The text placed a great deal of focus on the fathers. As John the apostle writes a circular letter to the surrounding churches of Asia minor in his day, he had heard the testimony of fathers who were remaining faithful in the gospel. This encouraged John and it should provide a great example for us.
After addressing the entire church with the title, “little children” which he repeats again at the end of verse 13, John then focuses on two different groups. He moves from the church as a whole to the fathers, and then from the fathers to the young men. John organizes his thought from the large assembly to the individual home, and from the top to the bottom.
In two different places, we see references to the young men of the churches who had overcome the evil one. In the second reference, we see that that young men were strong and had overcome the evil one because they were abiding in the Word of God. What a powerful testimony for the younger men of the church. Considering all of the distractions and temptations that so easily attract the focus of young men—they had remained faithful. John Calvin comments, “We also know that those of that age are so addicted to the vain cares of the world that they think little of the kingdom of God, for the vigor of their minds and the strength of their bodies make them drunk, as it were.”  However, that was not the case for these men.
As I was reading and considering the testimony of the young men, it was apparent that before John addressed them each time, he first pointed to the fathers. The reference to “fathers” were not only those men who were the fathers to the young men, but also the leading and mature examples within the church. John said the same thing about them each time in this section. The fathers were known to be men who “know him who is from the beginning.” In other words, they knew Christ and walked with him intimately. Ephesians 6:4 reads, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Before the young men could be strong in the Scriptures and able to overcome the evil one, they had to be mentored and discipled by the older fathers within the church. What an example set before us in Scripture that enables us to see the importance of faithful discipleship. There is a link between the fathers and the spiritual condition of the young people within the church. We must work to put Christ first—before all other things in life and enjoy God through the pages of Scripture on a regular basis as an example set before our children.
1 John 2:12-14:
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
- John Calvin and Matthew Henry, 1, 2, & 3 John, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 38.