Text: I John
FCF: We often struggle knowing if we really are God’s child
Prop: Because God changes His people from the inside out, we who progressively look more and more like Christ ought to gain assurance that we are His.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to the book of I John chapter 3. Today we will officially finish the book of I John together. Since I have been your pastor this marks the 5th book that we have finished in 4 years, and Lord willing in another couple months we will add two more to that list as we complete the Epistles of John.
I trust that the study has been extremely helpful for you. As a follower of Christ I hope that you have come away recognizing how marvelous a salvation that God has given to you. If not, I will attempt one final shot at helping you to see that as we look at the whole book together today.
If you are not a follower of Christ – at least not really – I hope that you have found this book to be incredibly unnerving. I hope that you have left each message with concern for your soul. I hope that you have seen John’s confidence as he gives the definition of a genuine believer, and that you have compared that to your life and found that you do not measure up. Most of all, I hope that you will seek the Lord for mercy and grace. I pray that He may yet bring you to life and faith in His dear Son. So that you may live and walk in Him.
Today looks more like a topical sermon than a text based one. As such we won’t be reading a lot of scripture today. I struggle with this because I greatly fear standing up here and spouting off words that are mine and not from God. But with this overview, this finale, we know what God has said in I John. Really this is a review of what God has said… in order that we may learn and grow from it.
But I would like to read one passage of scripture from I John that I hope will hone our thoughts on the 4 major themes of this book. I am in I John chapter 3 starting in verse 1 and I will read to verse 3. I am reading from the NET but follow along in the version you prefer.
So in my review of all the sermons on I John, I have come to 4 major themes John gives. There are probably more. And these may not have made other’s list. They are all related to some degree. I will begin foundationally and end at the pinnacle. I hope that this message is a blessing to my true brothers and sisters – and a caution to all others.
I.) [Slide 2] First, in I John I see that for the author, doctrine matters – a lot!
a. What you believe or don’t believe proves whether or not you have been born of God. (4:3)
i. John’s specific doctrinal focus is that of the status of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, the God-Man, and the atonement for our sins.
ii. If you lack any of these distinctives in your Christology you cannot be a genuine follower of Christ.
iii. This is the truth of the Son, and it is only revealed to and believed by those who have been born of God.
iv. Anyone who denies any of these distinctives is an anti-Christ. They are not born of God.
b. Arriving (generally) at the same doctrinal confession is guaranteed to all who have the Spirit of God. (2:27)
i. The anointing that we have from God is the Spirit that He has placed in us.
ii. We who are of God do all have this Spirit within us.
iii. God’s truth is spiritually discerned and therefore, when we all receive the same instruction of truth from God, we can rest assured that it is truth from His Spirit.
c. Those who actively oppose the truth are anti-Christs and were never part of us (2:19)
i. Those who were once part of the faith but walk away show that they were never truly part of it to begin with.
ii. Such opposition to truth is something for which God refuses to grant life.
d. [Slide 3] What does this mean for us?
i. You cannot minimize core church doctrine.
1. Although there are many things in scripture that are preferential and determined by personal conscience on the matter – There is quite a bit in scripture that is core doctrine.
2. Remember that Sola Scriptura does not mean private interpretation of the Word of God. Rather – it means what the church has received from the scriptures.
3. To understand what core doctrine is, we must trace it from the scripture but also follow it back through church history to the scripture. No one gets to determine what the text means by his own personal study. Rather, he is called to depend on the Spirit in Him and in others who are of the faith to determine what the scriptures say.
4. In doing that – we arrive at core doctrine that is without debate and is necessary for someone to truly be a child of God.
5. This is how I study for a sermon. I first pray and ask God’s Spirit to help me understand. I spend as much time as I need to determine what the text is saying to the original hearers. Then after this, I check my conclusions against commentators from various points in church history, from the present all the way back to the 2nd century. It is remarkable that although on the minor details we may disagree… the major premise of the text remains the same – every time.
6. In I John specifically – Christology is on display. But this does not mean it is the only doctrine necessary for true conversion.
ii. Secondly, it is important for us to observe that everything God calls us to do is predicated upon what is true.
1. Throughout the letter John rarely commands his readers to do anything.
2. But what happens in every case, is that it is only after establishing doctrinal truth that he commands his readers to act.
3. Actions flow from truth. Therefore one of them is not more important than the other. Instead, they are dependent on each other.
4. Doctrine is neither unnecessary to do what God asks, nor is it the enemy preventing you from doing what God asks.
5. Knowledge does puff up, but doctrine always transforms you. Because doctrine is The Word of God which will not return void.
6. If doctrine seems to have made you cold to obedience and to love, it is not doctrine that you have acquired but rather the knowledge of doctrine and with it arrogance.
This concept is laced to the rest of the threads in John’s epistle so we had to begin with doctrine. So let us now build upon this layer and find another thread flowing through I John.
II.) [Slide 4] Second, John concedes that the Christian life may include doubt, but insists that it should not be the norm.
a. All that John writes is so that his readers will be assured of their own identity in Christ. (5:13)
i. The purpose of his letter was to comfort his readers who had been told that they were missing something.
ii. They were teetering on doubt, unsure as to whether or not they were truly God’s children.
iii. John’s purpose was to point to truth and their lives to show that they had every reason to be confident that they were God’s children.
b. John does not count it acceptable or even normal for his readers to doubt their own identity, even amid their own sin. (1:9-10; 2:1-2; 12-14)
i. Even in their sin, it is their response that John points to for confirmation that they have an intercessor who is their atonement.
ii. And he, very early, guarantees them that although they still wrestle against sin, they have conquered the world and Satan through Christ.
c. John’s whole purpose is to shake his readers into assurance. If doubt was a normal part of the Christian walk, John could have written a much shorter letter. Instead – he writes 5 chapters taking the same themes and repackaging them in different ways to push his readership to understand that they CAN KNOW they are God’s children.
d. [Slide 5] In light of this Christians should
i. Not be content to flounder in doubt but rather
ii. They should be confident in Christ turning their eyes off themselves and to Him.
iii. Fake Christians, however, should listen to John and grow in uncertainty and doubt until they realize they are not who they say they are.
But why is John so confident that a Christian should be able to know they are God’s children?
III.) [Slide 6] John is convinced that a Christian can know they are a Christian because doctrinally he understands that how a person lives flows out of what they truly are.
a. If you say one thing and live another, you are lying. (1:5-2:2)
i. Talk is cheap.
ii. Saying that you walk in light, know God, love God – yet continuing to discard doctrine, hate God’s people, and live disobedient to God’s law proves that you are lying.
iii. Why can he say this?
b. If you are living it proves you are alive. (1:5-2:2; 5:5-12; 20)
i. Because this life we live in the flesh we live by faith into the Son of God!
ii. It is not we who live but Christ in us.
iii. We are dead with Christ, alive with Christ, and obedient with Christ.
iv. We are in Christ and He in us.
v. Ultimately it is through union to the Son and His life-giving power in that union that we draw confidence.
vi. Sure, the things we look for are observable good works as evidence – but that doesn’t mean that those good works are from us.
vii. Instead – they are only possible because we have been united to the son, inheriting all things from Him.
viii. It could never be a “live to become” sort of relationship. Why? Because we were dead in sin. A dead thing cannot do anything.
ix. No the way this works is that God has to create in us life. From that life, from new birth, from re-creation, from adoption we can then as a new creation go and do.
x. Therefore, as John puts it, if anyone is found doing things that living creatures do – then it proves they are alive already.
xi. That is why he says in the end of the book…
c. Being Fathered of God produces growing faith, love, and obedience. (5:1-4)
i. Faith, love and obedience is the core of all he is saying is true of a genuine believer.
ii. But all of these are not true of someone and then they become a believer. Rather if they are true of someone – it shows that they are already fathered of God.
d. [Slide 7] John is so sure that his readers should live free of doubt. He is so sure because they have observable evidence that they are alive. Dead things do not act alive. Dead things act dead. But they have growing faith, enduring selfless love, and progressive obedience. That means that they should not doubt – but rather look at their lives and realize… THEY COULDN’T DO THAT ON THEIR OWN! That had to be done TO them.
Ultimately John sets this up fairly airtightly. The doctrine he teaches says that being made alive and living for God can only happen if and when God intervenes on our behalf. Therefore, a Christian should gain confidence in their identity, in who they are, because they have been made that way. Not from birth – but from rebirth. God intervened for them and did something to change who they were. That change in them produces predictable and observable traits. God is the hero of John’s epistle. Because although John is calling his readers to look at their lives to find evidence of their genuineness – he makes sure to tell them WHY that evidence is in them. This leads us to the pinnacle theme that John puts forth.
IV.) [Slide 8] God richly provides for His true children.
a. God keeps them in the light (1:7)
b. God forgives and cleanses them from sin (1:7; 2:2; 12; 15; 29; 3:5; 5:16-19)
c. Christ will intercede for them (2:1-2; 3:16; 4:10)
d. God completes His love in them (4:7-5:4)
e. In Christ, since He conquered the evil one, they have conquered the evil one (2:12-14; 3:8; 4:4;5:18-19)
f. The Holy Spirit preserves them in truth (2:27; 4:4-6)
g. They are Fathered of God (2:29; 3:1-3; 4:7; 5:1-4; 18)
h. God resides in them and they in Him (2:5-6; 24;27-28; 3:6; 9; 24; 4:13; 15-16; 5:20)
i. The Holy Spirit resides in them (2:27; 3:9; 24; 4:13)
j. God’s love pours out of them toward each other and toward God (4:7-5:4)
k. God’s testimony about His Son is proven in their lives (5:5-12)
l. God will hear them (3:18-24; 5:14-17)
m. Christ will protect them from sin (3:3,6;9;5:16-20)
n. They are in the Father through being in the Son (5:20)
o. [Slide 9] How can John be so convinced that we can know that we are God’s true children by predictable and observable evidence in our lives? Because it isn’t up to us… it is up to God!
p. God acts and His children benefit. This doesn’t absolve His children from obedience – as we saw John command his readers on a few occasions – but it does give confidence to his readers to know that they will be successful – primarily because God won’t let them NOT be.
[Slide 10] So what can we draw from the overall message of John’s first epistle?
If God is responsible for all of this…
Then those who are His children should all have predictable and observable evidences of His working in their lives. It won’t translate to perfection because even though God is doing all this, we are still involved – so it won’t be perfect. But it also will not fail.
When God says He brings us into His family, adopts us, new births us, raises us from death, and makes us a new creation – He means it.
And seeing this grand list of all that He promises to do– we can’t be someone who lives exactly as they always have and expect to somehow also be God’s child. It doesn’t work that way. That’s why the message of this book if you are failing these tests is not to try harder. The message of this book if you are failing these tests is to wake you up to the fact that you aren’t actually a follower of Christ and that you never have been.
But I daresay that even this is not John’s true aim in this epistle. Although it is appropriate for fake Christians, casual Christians, carnal Christians to all come to I John and tremble in uncertainty – and certainly John would probably not be opposed to that outcome – it really isn’t why he wrote this.
[Slide 11 (end)] His primary audience was God’s true people.
So in light of all that God is promising to do in our salvation - we no longer have to wonder any more… hey why do I hate sin now? Hey why do I love God’s word? Hey why do I love God’s people? Hey why do I trust God more and more? Hey why do I really want to do all God wants? Hey why do feel that I need to repent when I sin?
All these questions are answered in I John. Because you are a new creation. Old has gone and new has come. You have been united with Christ and therefore you are united in Him in every way. You have been plunged into Him.
These are merely the predictable and observable evidences that God has fathered you. They aren’t ways to please God more or areas you can boast in.
It is like your family DNA. As a product of the genes of your mother and father you will have genetic commonalities between you. To the extent that if we analyzed your DNA today we could with high precision, having never seen your face, we could see that you were a child of your parents. However – if we were simply to look at you and your parents – we’d arrive at the same conclusion without any of the science and without any tests.
This is what John is saying. How do you know that your DNA proves that you are God’s child? Do you have His nose that hates the smell of sin and death? Do you have his eyes that looks on His family with love? Do you have His feet that walk stable and sure through rough terrain? Do you have His mouth that speaks words of life?
If you are His child – everyone who knows Him will have to spend only a short time with you to realize that you are His child.
And just like you can’t very well boast in the size and shape of your nose as if you accomplished it somehow – you can’t very well take credit for your hatred of sin – after all you once served it willingly and without pause. No there is no pride in what God has done in us and to us. There is only joy, and gladness, and thanksgiving, and praise.
You may be thinking, why would He do something like that… for me? Friends. That. Is. Grace.
I hope if you are a true follower of Christ, as revealed in I John, that you leave this book in confidence, knowing that you have been remade. And I hope that that confidence that He who began a good work in you will complete it in that day – only serves to embolden your obedience, to give you courage to kill your sin, to give you fervency in your love for one another. I hope that as you step out to obey your God – John’s message of God’s part in all this is only a catalyst to drive you ever on toward the mark to win the prize for His glory and the glory of His dear Son.
You are His own possession recreated in Christ as a masterpiece for good works which He has predestined for you before the foundation of the world. That is your pedigree. So go and do them.