Laboring for Assurance

Laboring for Assurance

Yesterday I preached 1 John 5:13 in our series through the epistle of 1 John.  As you may already know, the thirteenth verse of the fifth chapter is the key verse of the entire letter.  It become explicitly clear that John was writing and laboring for the assurance of the Christian community in the various different cities surrounding Ephesus.

1 John 5:13 – I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

What Did John Write?

All through the letter, John addressed both doctrinal and practical aspects of the Christian life.  At the time of John’s letter, there were various different false gospels and false prophets who were confusing the churches.  Many believers were left without true assurance and many unbelievers were given assurance.  John’s letter cuts to the heart and exposes the true heart of Christianity.  Some of the issues that John addressed include the following:

  • The Deity of Christ (1 John 1:1-2)
  • Joy in Christ (1 John 2:1-4)
  • Jesus as our Advocate and the Propitiation for Sin (1 John 2:1-2)
  • Perseverance of the Faith (1 John 2:3)
  • Love of God (1 John 3:1)
  • Love for One Another (1 John 3:11-12)
  • Abiding in God and God Abiding in Us (1 John 3:24)
  • False Prophets (1 John 4:1-3)
  • God is Love and We Must Love One Another (1 John 4:7-8)
  • Overcoming the World (1 John 5:4)

Everything that John was addressing from essential doctrine to essential practice was aimed at the assurance of the believer.  John was laboring for the assurance of the churches, and we should labor for the assurance of our brothers and sisters in Christ—but not in a compromising way that avoids confronting sin—which John certainly didn’t do.

Who was John Addressing?

John makes it clear that he was writing to those “who believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13).  The letter was not sent to the community in general.  It was sent to the local church in the community.  In fact, this is the case for the overwhelming majority of the Bible.  Rather than being written to unbelievers—the majority of the Bible is aimed toward the believer and only in rare occasions do you see a passage that directly or indirectly addresses unbelievers.

In this case, John is writing his letter to the local churches in various cities as this letter would have been circulated and passed around.  He was writing to those who profess faith in Christ.  Once again, he had a clear agenda that is unveiled in 1 John 5:13.

What was John’s Motive?

John the apostle with a tenderness and affection for the Christian community writes his letter to help true believers find assurance and to put the spotlight on those who claim Christ but apparently have never been born again.  John was laboring for the assurance of his fellow believers.

What John was doing in the letter is what we must do in our small groups, our Bible studies, and our sermons.  John was pointing to real genuine Christianity and making it clear that if you claim to be loved by God yet you refuse to love one another in the context of the local church—you’re not a Christian.

How many people in our own culture attend church on Sunday, but if the truth were known, they’re not truly converted?  Many people such as Billy Graham and A.W. Tozer have put the number as high as 80-90% of the average church on Sunday morning.  If their estimates are anywhere close to accurate—that’s a tragedy in the making.  To think that hell will be populated by a multitude of people who claimed to be a Christian but in reality they were lost and unconverted.

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. [22] 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?’ [23] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Doctrine and Assurance

Doctrine and Assurance

Yesterday I preached the text found in 1 John 5:6-12 in our ongoing series titled, “Know.”  John has a clear agenda through his letter as he desires for the Christians to have solid assurance of their salvation.  John repeatedly uses vocabulary in different words that are often translated over into English as— “know”  and he does so at least 30 times in his short letter.  The key verse is found in 1 John 5:13.

Interestingly enough, John does not disconnect doctrine from assurance.  John does not build a case for assurance to be built upon the foundation of feelings or emotions.  Instead, he points out the need to have assurance that is connected to critical doctrines of the faith.  Here in this passage, the doctrine that John emphasizes is the deity of Christ.

In John’s day, a form of what we call Gnosticism was becoming popular and it attacked the deity of Christ.  It suggested that the spirit of the Christ came upon Jesus at his baptism but departed just prior to his death on the cross.  Such a teaching cut to the heart of the gospel and must be opposed.  John pointed to the witness of Jesus being centered on the Spirit of God, the water, and the blood.

The ministry of the Spirit of God is most visible in the inspiration and preservation of God’s Word.  Over a period of 1,500 years—the Holy Spirit moved upon forty different human authors on three different continents to write the body of God’s canon that we call the Bible.  All through the Bible from Genesis 3:15 to Revelation 22—the Spirit of God is pointing to Jesus as God’s Son—the Savior of sinners and most controversially, One with the Father.

At the Baptism, as John makes note by the reference to water, Jesus’ deity is clearly put on display as the Trinity is manifest together both visibly and audibly (see Mark 1:9d-11).  This unique moment in Jesus’ earthly ministry validates Jesus as the Son of God—which is a clear reference to his deity.

The reference to blood is a reference to Jesus’ death.  Not only was Jesus God at his birth and his baptism, but he was God at the point of death on the cross.  This is what we know as the hypostatic union, where Jesus’ deity took upon himself human flesh.  Jesus was God at the point of his brutal death on the cross thereby providing the sufficient sacrifice for sinners.  When Jesus died, some very unique events occurred that validated his claims to be God. In Matthew 27:45-54, notice the events that point to the deity of Jesus.

  1. The sky turns black for 3 hours.
  2. The temple veil tearing.
  3. The ground shaking.
  4. The rocks breaking.
  5. The tombs of many who had died rose from the dead.
  6. The guard’s testimony of Jesus.

All of these events point to the fact that Jesus was God.  The ministry of the Spirit of God, the baptism of Jesus, and the death of Jesus all validate the claims of Jesus.  Repeatedly through his earthly ministry, Jesus claimed to be God.  At one point, Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).

John makes the point that if you reject the deity of Jesus you call God a liar.  However, if you receive Jesus as God, you will receive eternal life.  Doctrine matters.  Knowing God intelligibly as he has desired through his Word is essential to being a child of God.  John MacArthur said:

Christians preach an exclusive Christ in an inclusive age. Because of that, we are often accused of being narrow-minded, even intolerant. Many paths, it is said, lead to the top of the mountain of religious enlightenment. How dare we insist that ours is the only one? In reality, however, there are only two religious paths: the broad way of works salvation leading to destruction, and the narrow way of faith in the only Savior leading to eternal life (Matt. 7:13-14). Religious people are on either one or the other. Sadly, the Sanhedrin and all who followed them were on the broad road to hell (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Acts 1-11, 135-136).

Saving Faith Produces Victorious Living

Saving Faith Produces Victorious Living

Yesterday I had the privilege to preach the passage found in 1 John 5:1-5 in our ongoing series titled “KNOW.”  John is passionate about leading people to find assurance of their faith in Christ.  However, in doing so, he is likewise committed to pointing out the insufficient paths of false Christianity along the way.

Many people struggle with the assurance of their salvation.  Some professing believers struggle based on doubts they have about the past while others focus on the struggles of the present.  According to the New Testament—those who believe the gospel have been freed by Christ in order that they will obey Christ (John 8:36).

All people are born in bondage to sin.  We are all born in the shackles of sin and the only thing that we can freely do is choose to sin.  By nature, we are the children of wrath and we love to do the will of our father—the prince of this world (Ephesians 2:1-3).  It’s only the gospel that breaks the chains of sin and sets us free to live a life of obedience to Christ that leads to victory over the world.

According to 1 John 5:1-5, everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  Not some of the believers or most of the believers—John builds the case that all believers overcome the world.  This is the necessary line in the sand for John and he provides it as a means of testing and assurance.

The word “overcome” comes from the Greek word νικάω (nikaō) which means “Conquer, Overcome, Prevail.”  The word literally has in mind the idea of winning in the face of obstacles, to be victor.  From this word, we have the word NIKE.  Originally known as Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS), NIKE, was founded by University of Oregon track athlete Phil Knight and his coach Bill Bowerman in January 1964. The first pair of shoes were crafted with the use of a waffle iron. Just think—a $28 billion dollar corporation with over 45,000 employees was started in a kitchen on a waffle iron – with hand made shoes.

The Greek speaking world understood the word NIKE as the name of the Greek goddess of victory.  The sports apparel company seeks to connect their customers with the image of victory as they market their products with the idea that if you wear NIKE products you will become victorious.  That, however, was not the intent of John in his letter.  He had something far different than an athletic competition in mind.  He was focused on the Christian life.  John was writing his letter so that people could have assurance of their salvation in Christ (1 John 5:13).  In order for believers to have assurance—they must be able to live victoriously.

The world, as mentioned by John, is a reference to the system of the world—the depraved system ruled by Satan and the demonic beings.  It is impossible to live the Christian life apart from true saving faith.  It would be like climbing Mt. Everest in a pair of Nike shoes and a light windbreaker.  In my preaching yesterday, I made a statement that I hope lingers in the minds of people.  I stated that I don’t want to present a view of Christianity that is weak, superficial, and so shallow that an unbeliever would believe they could do it in their flesh.  I want Christianity to appear impossible.  From being born again to living the victorious Christian life—it should seem impossible apart from true saving faith.

With that in mind, whoever lives in obedience to Christ will have a life that brings true glory to God.  No person can do it on their own.

The Spirit of God Provides Assurance of Salvation

The Spirit of God Provides Assurance of Salvation

Yesterday I had the opportunity of preaching from 1 John 4:13-21 in our series through the epistle of 1 John.   As we’ve pointed out all through the series, John has a desire for his readers to know some things about God, about themselves, and to have assurance of their salvation.   We have purposely titled the series, “Know” for that reason.

Millions of professing Christians wake up everyday and approach life without concrete assurance of their salvation.  They ask themselves often if their faith is real, if their religion is genuine, and if they have truly pleased God.  However, they continue to fall back into ongoing patterns of sin and seem to have very little if any love for God’s Word and their local church.  How can a person know they are indeed a true Christian?

The Gift of Assurance

John writes the following verse 13, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”  In other words, we know that we are indeed a true believer based on the fact that we have the Holy Spirit abiding in us.  All through the New Testament, we find the clear teaching of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who comes at the point of conversion.  Texts such as Titus 3:5 reveal this truth to us.

Titus 3:5 – he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit

It is John’s aim in this section to demonstrate that the assurance of salvation comes as a result of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  From birth, we are born into the bondage of sin and are unable to live in a manner that pleases God in our human flesh.  Yet, after conversion and the receiving of the Holy Spirit, we receive the freedom to live in a God honoring manner.  We see this clearly taught in passages such as Galatians 5:16-18.

John also labors the point of God’s sovereignty in salvation as he points to the deity of Christ and then places clear emphasis upon the fact that salvation is God loving us rather than us choosing to love God.  He says, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16).  God has loved us before we love God—or our fellow brethren in the church (1 John 4:19).  Salvation is not us coming to God or us finding God—in the Bible salvation is pictured as God coming to fallen, helpless, dead sinners who need a Savior.

The Fruit of the Spirit

After conversion and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit becomes evident in our lives.  First of all, we have a peace—a true confidence to approach the judgment throne of God knowing that Christ has taken our sins upon himself and satisfied the justice of God on our behalf.  We have no need to live in fear of punishment.  Jesus was punished in our place (Is. 53:10).

Last of all, John returns to his theme of love by demonstrating that the ministry of the Holy Spirit indwelling believers will lead to genuine love for the brethren that proves true salvation.  In other words, if a person claims to be loved by God and claims to love God but refuses to love his or her fellow church members, John calls that person a liar (1 John 4:20).  The person who claims to be a Christian but harbors bitterness, animosity, hatred, envy, jealousy, and continually gossips and slanders other church members proves to not be a child of God.

Are you a Christian?  On what basis do you claim to be a follower of Christ?  Do you have proof that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is at work in our life bringing about the fruit of the Spirit in your daily lifestyle?  If not, you have reason to fear that you religion is empty and worthless.  If that’s true, you need to repent and trust Christ alone for your salvation.


The Need for Biblical Discernment

The Need for Biblical Discernment

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.

Three Marks of a True Christian

Three Marks of a True Christian

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.