April 9, 2018

The Christian's DNA - 1 John 1:1-2:2

Theme: The DNA of a Christian
Strand 1: The Life and Truth of Jesus
Strand 2: Fellowship with God and Believers
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life-- 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us-- 3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. 5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

2:1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

One week removed from celebrating the resurrection of Christ, we continue to focus on life. Isn’t that what the resurrection is all about? The life that Jesus took back. The triumph of life over death. The promise of eternal life in heaven. We always come back to life. Here on earth, the building block of life is DNA – the threadlike structure that forms and develops organisms. Without DNA there could be no life. Within DNA we see the awesome and ever-complex design of God.

Each human, each organism in fact, has unique DNA. No two are the same. Yet, the basic structure of function of DNA remains the same. Spiritually, we have DNA as well. It’s what makes a person a Christian. Like the DNA of our bodies, our spiritual DNA has the capability to develop life and also the capability to protect life. And much like the DNA of our bodies, the factors of our spiritual life flow together like strands built around a single purpose. That single purpose is to bring a person to faith in Jesus.

Part 1: Strand 1: The Life and Truth of Jesus

The words before us are essentially an object lesson of this very thing. One scholar says that John’s epistle is not like a set of bricks side by side, where each topic is addressed independently of the other. He says rather the letter is like a spiral where each topic flows around and in relation to the central theme of Jesus Christ. Structurally, this letter is like a DNA strand. It contains all we need to create and sustain life in Jesus Christ. And like our bodies, there’s more than what meets the eye with this spiritual DNA; it is complex and beautiful – a product of God’s design. Today, we consider the DNA of a Christian – with two strands in particular: The life and truth of Jesus, and fellowship between God and one another.

Life and truth are extremely important in the person and work of Jesus. So important, in fact, that they can’t be separated. The life that Jesus lived and won for us is dependent on the truth of who He was and what He did. Today, life and truth and both under attack. Life is devalued. Truth is not sought. Those who believe such things have a hard time understanding Jesus.    

You can’t separate who Jesus was (truth) from what He did (life) anymore than you can separate the sun from light. The Sun is light. You can’t have light without the sun. Likewise, Jesus is what He did. He stands for everything that He accomplished. We see this life and truth based on Jesus immediately in the words of John, the apostle. He speaks from the perspective of an eye-witness when it comes to establishing the truth. John says, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life-- 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.

Three aspects of an eye-witness come forth. That which John heard, saw, and touched. John has this unique perspective as one who was with Jesus and he shares it with his readers so that they will know the truth. The stories about Jesus were not myth. They were not oral legends that were passed down over thousands of years. John was an eye-witness. Some of those to whom he wrote had also seen Jesus. If any of this was not true it could have easily been pointed out.

Here, then, is where life enters. The truth about Jesus establishes what He accomplished. John says that eternal life with the Father has now been manifested, literally made known, to us. In verse 4 he tells the Christians that he wants them to know what Jesus is so that their joy could be full. This is the joy of the resurrection, and it applies to us just as much as it applied to eye-witnesses. Yet, there is no joy if you take away truth from what Jesus did. Truth does matter. 

This strand of truth and life is no longer supplied by eye-witness testimony today. We can use what John and others witnessed but it comes to our lives through God’s Word. It is in the written and spoken Word that we now behold the Word incarnate – the Word which John spoke of in the first chapter of his Gospel. Through the Word of God today we continue to share truth and life through Jesus Christ.

Here’s where the battle lines are drawn – where we see attacks on life and truth. Today it is considered arrogant to claim to know the truth. People think you’re too proud if you call others wrong in their beliefs. Many are trying to meld all religions together so that we don’t have to talk about truth. Carrying the banner of God’s Word brings persecution and shame. Yet, John tells us that you can’t be a Christian if you deny the truth – it’s like trying to deny your own DNA. Our life with God, the life that Jesus won through the resurrection, is inseparably linked to truth. This is why every attack on God’s truth is dangerous – even if we try to convince ourselves that it doesn’t affect faith in Jesus. By denying truth, no matter what part, we deny the way that God creates and sustains life.

John goes so far as to take one element of the truth, namely that we are sinners, and say that if we deny it we deceive ourselves and even make God a liar. The fact is that God cares about the truth so much that He sent His Son to earth to suffer and die so that you could know the truth. He used multiple writers across different periods of history to accurately record His Word so that you would know truth – and that you would have life. This is part of the fabric of how God created you and renewed you. You simply cannot be a Christian without caring about the truth.  

John knew this struggle well. At this time John lived in Ephesus. Many believe these letters were written in response to a false teacher of that time named Cerinthus. Cerinthus was doing what many do today – trying to blend all faiths into one. He took parts of Judaism, parts of Christianity, parts of a cultural religion of that time known as Gnosticism and combined them all. Cerinthus denied almost the entire Bible as inspired and authoritative from God. His attack on the truth even led him to deny that Jesus was God – and what Jesus did on the cross. Because Cerinthus denied truth, he also denied life.

John fought against these false teachings because he knew first-hand what was at stake. He saw Jesus, listened to Jesus, and touched Jesus. John’s conviction as a Christian stemmed from the truth. Without it he was lost. You have the same truth today, passed down in the Scriptures. Treat the Scriptures with care. Use them often. Trust what they say, because they will create and sustain life in Jesus.     

Part 2: Fellowship with God and believers

John mentions fellowship as another aspect of Christian identity. Here’s where we see the life and truth in action. Fellowship in the Christian life involves spiritually sharing God’s blessings in Christ. It helps to think of our fellowship in two parts based on directions. Vertically, each Christian has fellowship with God by faith. Horizontally, Christians have fellowship with other Christians based on a shared confession of faith. Life and truth are important to both directions. God has established faith with believers by the Holy Spirit’s work in their hearts through the truth of His Word. This relationship fulfills Christ’s promise when He says those who believe in Him that they have passed from death to life. Believers are living eternal life today.

Horizontally, our fellowship with other Christians is based on the truth of God’s Word. Our confession of faith ought to line up correctly with God’s Word. This is why we see multiple horizontal fellowships in the world – not all Christians agree with everything the Word of God presents. Many also do not believe that unity in all matters of God’s Word is necessary or even possible. 

Much like DNA, fellowship is all about creating life. God makes establishing fellowship with Him by faith a priority in His Word. This marks the beginning of fellowship. It’s no surprise then, that God compares this to being reborn or coming back to life from death. Likewise, earthly fellowships of Christians are to go forth into the world and bring the life-saving gospel to all people. This spiritual DNA strand is also concerned with protecting life. One of the grand designs of DNA is that it has the ability to adapt to situations. If you are suffering from a virus your DNA code can actually change in order to release a helpful protein, and then go back to its original design.

In a similar way, the same Creator has designed fellowship as a protective measure against the harmful effects of sin. John speaks about this in matters of confessing our sins. Refusing to confess sin is similar to resigning oneself to a physical illness without seeking treatment. God has given us an antidote for sin. He has designed the Christian life with a means of receiving this treatment whenever we need it. It’s called confession and repentance.

Our horizontal fellowship is meant to act like an immune system to protect our vertical fellowship with the Lord. This is why unity in God’s Word is so important. If we don’t agree on what is right and wrong, how can we properly diagnose and treat the spiritual viruses that threaten us. Some say it’s impossible to agree on the truth. Perhaps on the surface that’s true with sinners. Some also say it’s impossible for sinners to have fellowship and be united with God. (2:1 – God has done this so that we don’t sin – but we do!). Perhaps that’s also true on the surface. But, Jesus got beneath the surface when He suffered, died, and rose again. Jesus turns impossible situations into practical truths worth believing. He is able to unite fractured believers. He is able to forgive fallen sinners. Just because something seems impossible to our ears does not mean it is truly impossible to God, nor does it give us a free pass to ignore what God commands.       

These two strands mark the Christian’s DNA. But most important is what they encircle: Jesus Christ the righteous – your Advocate. He gives life and truth to our lives. He established unity with us by faith and allows us to extend the same gift within our churches. Ultimately, our lives are measured by Christ’s. The fabric of our identity by faith is established and strengthened by Him. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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