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Theme: We Know and Believe
1 John 5:20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
Students are taught from early on that almost every type of assignment that is given in the form of a paper is to have an introduction and a conclusion. Part of the reason behind this is to clearly introduce and summarize the purpose of the paper. This technique helps the reader discern the intent of the author and the main substance of the message.
This past week we centered our devotional thoughts at Pacific NW camp on John’s first epistle, or letter. Although this writing was not a research or study paper, it was an instructional letter. John takes the time to openly tell the reader why he wrote this letter. By going through it, we pick up on four separate instances where John mentions a unique reason:
1 John 1:4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.
1 John 2:1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin.
1 John 2:26 These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you.
1 John 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.
Complete joy, warning of sin, warning of deception from false teaching, and assurance of eternal life in Jesus’ name. These are the four reasons John gives for this letter and they help us understand what we should make of it today. The same four reasons apply equally, if not more, to our lives as they did to the first readers.
Our devotional series didn’t specifically consider these reasons that John stated, but it did address how to achieve what John intended. On our three main devotion days we divided the content into the three main teachings that John considers throughout the letter.
When we study and understand these three teaching points, we grow in our ability to heed what John stated as the purpose behind the letter – and through it we gain confidence to declare that we “know and believe” what Jesus has accomplished for us. In our message this morning we will take a brief look at the three discussion points from camp.
God is Light. John opens the letter with this thought. Of course, John wasn’t thinking about God’s physical appearance, though the portions of the Bible that describe that certainly contain a bright image. John was speaking about the distinction between sin and righteousness. In the Bible, sin is darkness, righteousness is light. So, John states in chapter 1, verse 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.
That’s essentially where the description of God ends. The fact that God is perfect is not complicated. we don’t need a dissertation on the subject from John. This one verse suffices. The direction John then takes the reader is to consider his or her own life. If God is holy, and demands holiness from anyone in His presence, what does that mean for your life? The following verses of chapter one form the familiar confession that we often use (last weekend actually).
If God is light and we are in darkness because of sin, we had better confess our sins to God in repentance. Even though John talks about our lives, the overall power stays focused on God. John says, 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Part of the light of God is being willing to freely forgive sinners like us – rescuing us from the darkness of evil thoughts, lies, anger and grudges, lusts of the heart, impatient attitudes, misguided hopes and priorities in life, and so much more.
In each of our devotions we made connections to the Gospel of John, penned by the same author. When it comes to God as light we are reminded of Jesus’ endearing promise in John 8: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” A chapter later, Jesus put this promise into action when He healed a blind man. When the Pharisees questioned the man on how Jesus, who they perceived as a sinner, could heal him, the man responded: "Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see."
The blind man received more than physical sight that day – he received the confidence and assurance of faith in His Savior. He knew and believed what Jesus could do for him, opening not only his eyes to see but His heart to believe and inherit eternal life.
God is Life. Similarly, to how we describe life with God, John spoke in his letter about what we have today through faith and what we look forward to in eternity. 1 John 3:6 states, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.” Here’s the connection between life in Jesus and the light of Jesus in our present lives. The light and life given by God serve one another. John said something similar at the beginning of His Gospel: “All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life and the life was the light of men.”
However, John wasn’t afraid to teach about heaven either. Our sermon verse is an example of such a statement. John knew that there was more to life with God than what happened here on earth, even in matters of our Christian life. We are looking for the better, heavenly home. Just as Jesus was instrumental on the physical creation of this world – calling all life into existence, so also has He established the heavenly mansions in heaven for those who trust in Him. The Christian’s life is always about both – what we do today and what we look forward to in eternity. If we focus too much on one or the other we lose sight of what Jesus accomplished for us and we end up distorting what it means to live with God.
The account we considered from John’s Gospel was when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. What better example could there be of Christ’s ability to restore physical life? It is a perfect summary of what life with God is all about. But within the story of Lazarus’ raised life was an example of the other angle to life with God. It was Martha who also was raised in a way that day. When she first encountered Jesus outside the city, she lamented that He had not been there sooner to prevent Lazarus’ death. Imagine having to patiently wait, knowing and believing what Jesus could accomplish, and feeling let down. That’s where Martha was at, but Jesus reaffirmed His power over death by promising Martha that He is the resurrection and the life and that all who believe in Him conquer death.
The key there is to believe in Jesus, for shortly after, Martha doubted again. When they arrived at Lazarus’ tomb and Jesus commanded them the open the entrance, it was Martha who questioned saying, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for it has been four days.” Jesus’ response is telling and it’s a learning point for us, He said, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe, you would see the glory of God?”
We talk about knowing and believing. John’s theme in his letter is one of confidence in Jesus. It’s tough to believe that at times, even for the strongest Christians, because faith is about God’s power, not ours. It’s not about seeing with our eyes, but with our hearts when the Holy Spirit establishes God’s kingdom of grace in them. Jesus gently reminded Martha about life with God through faith, as He powerfully displayed His love by raising her brother from the dead.
And that leads us to our final thought – God is Love. This is probably the dominant topic in John’s letter. Basically, the last two chapters are speaking primarily about love. Even though 1 John is one of the shorter books of the Bible, the word love is used 40 times. We considered one of those passages a week and a half ago at Chick’s victory service: 1 John 4:10 – This is love. Not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice of the world. John confesses that love from God is about the sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of the world. Again, we see how this topic is connected to the mission that Jesus accomplished to redeem the world, just as it was for light and life from God.
Another familiar love passage in 1 John is from chapter 4, verse 19: We love Him because He first loved us. One thing you’ll notice about John’s treatment of love is that he continually connects the love that God shows to us to the love that we are to show to one another. In this way, John teaches us that our love is motivated and led by God’s love. If someone claims to be loving, but is involved in something contrary to God’s will, it can’t really be classified as love from God. Likewise, if a Christian claims to have the love of God, yet cares little or not at all for those in his life, he doesn’t have the love of God. John asks this pointed question in chapter 3, verse 17: But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? John concludes by saying, My little children, let us not love in word or in speech, but in deed and in truth.
We connected the love of 1 John to the Gospel of John in the story of Thomas after the resurrection of Jesus. It wasn’t loving for Thomas to demand a certain amount of proof about Jesus. He should have believed just upon hearing the word of the other disciples. Likewise, there are many times where we demand things of God and we act like He is the unloving one when He doesn’t do what we want. We treat others around us in an unloving way when we demand that they meet our standards and level of morality, rather than drawing closer to God’s truth. Jesus’ response was the epitome of love. He gave Thomas what Thomas had demanded – physical proof, but accompanied it with a thought-provoking reminder – “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Likewise, when we are loud-mouths who make selfish demands, Jesus meets us with the same love of forgiveness and renewal, gently reminding us to trust in Him and not ourselves.
In these three gifts – light, life, and love – from God, we have confidence to say “We know and believe” in Jesus Christ our Savior. We know what He did for us and we believe that He will keep His promises – both for this life and for the life to come. This is how John’s goals of writing are realized in our lives. Amen.