2008-10-05 (am) 1 John 4:1-6 Good Theology
It’s been quite a couple of weeks hasn’t it?
Now, just as ever, it is so important to hear God’s Word.
Now, just as ever, we need, as Pastor Terry said on his blog, good Gospel Theology.
In our passage this morning, John warns us to test the spirits to see if they are from God. John warns us to test the spirits to see if they have good gospel theology, that is are they teaching God’s Word?
The reason this passage is so relevant now, is because we might be tempted to listen to false teaching, for all kinds of reasons.
In order to deal with our emotions from the past few weeks, we might find ourselves leaning outside of good, reformed orthodox understanding of scripture.
Now, look at what John tells us is the way to determine the godliness of spirits. The spirits are from God, if they acknowledge that Jesus came in the flesh. So, John says, the most important, defining revelation from God is Christ. After all, Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15). Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). The apostle Paul made it his goal, while preaching to the Corinthians, to know nothing except Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).
It is so easy to turn our eyes away from Jesus. Let’s test ourselves in this. What is the main point, or focus of John 3:16? Take a minute to recite the verse in your head. What do you hear emphasised most often? The world, right? We emphasise the world, for God so loved the world. For God so loved us.
Listen to the verse again, with slightly different emphasis: “For GOD so loved the world that HE gave His one and only SON, that whoever believes in HIM shall not perish but have eternal life.” Even that verse, that most used evangelistic verse, emphasises God and God’s work, as demonstrated in His love for the World, and whoever believes in Him. The emphasis is not the world, though the world is important, make no mistake, the emphasis is rightly on God, on Christ.
So what? Why does John point out the obvious?
It is because he knows, as Paul did, how quickly people can turn away from truth. Because they were turning away from the truth, Paul wrote a scathing letter to the Galatians. He was so upset that he abandons altogether the proper letter writing etiquette. He goes from his greeting, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” He goes right into the introduction and reason for his letter, purposely choosing not to mention his prayers to God, thanking God for them, praising them for their faith. For he cannot praise them, for they have turned away! So, he bluntly blurts it out.
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently, some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Paul, like John, consistently emphasised the centrality of Christ in all of life. Therefore, we must make sure we exercise discernment in our Bible reading, our theology, what we listen to, and what is preached here. We must keep Christ central.
There are many voices out there; the ones outside the church obviously deny Jesus, the Son of God, coming in the flesh: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Moonies, New Age, Oprah Winfrey & Eckhart Tolle, Judaism, Islam, etc. But there are voices inside the church that spout not just poor theology, even Christ in the flesh denying theology. It was the same in John’s day, with the Gnostics. Then a bit later with the Arians, and the Pelagians and the Semi-Pelagians. And today we have some on the very extreme areas of Christianity who deny the virgin birth, which directly attacks the humanity, the coming in the flesh of Christ.
Which is why I’m so very, very happy to be Christian Reformed. As a denomination, we’ve been around for a long time. This means that we have a longer view of things, we’re not so easily caught up in the latest wind and wave of new ideas. Our theology is Old, but not old fashioned. We use the creeds, and the confessions to help us understand God’s Word, to help us follow John’s command to test the spirits.
The creeds and confessions are not God’s Word. They are not authoritative, nor are they inerrant or infallible. They are merely useful tools to assist us in fulfilling John’s command.
Let us not be fooled. There are many books, pastors and leaders out there that sound great, but which allow for openness, either in discussion, or in outright rejection of doctrinal, or theological certainty.
Some reformed pastors have expressed their concerns about these things.
Now, it is far too simplistic to suggest that we should close our minds to whatever is going on out there, or even in here. No, we need to be aware, even more aware of what is going on in the Christian world. We need to be informed, as long as we remain grounded in Christ.
So, John commands us to test the spirits, to see if they are from God.
Simply put, does it fall in with scripture?
Let’s suppose some famous Christian suddenly said, “It is permissible to steal as long as you do not get caught.” Now, all we have to do is turn to the Ten Commandments, and see that he is clearly wrong.
But what if it is not that cut and dried. For many years, our denomination has wrestled with the issue of women in ecclesiastical office. Similarly, pressure keeps being applied from individuals and churches with regard to homosexuality.
There have been reports that some churches in the CRC willingly perform infant dedications rather than infant baptisms.
Now, it has been argued that some of these distinctions do not violate John’s teaching in this passage. So, that too is an area where discernment needs to be exercised. We want to hold ourselves, and other churches, other denominations to account, but we don’t want to needlessly split hairs or needlessly split churches. Personally, it would take a very big, clearly contrary to God’s Word, action to make me even entertain the idea of leaving the CRC. And even then, how effective has leaving a denomination been for the health of the denomination that was left? Wouldn’t it be better to remain connected, and to work hard to bring the denomination back to truth?
All in all, Jesus is the head of the Church, and all pastors are merely under shepherds.
But on a more individual level, what does John’s teaching mean for us? How can we apply John’s teaching to our everyday experiences? Because pain, suffering and tragedy can tempt us to turn to bad theology.
I can think of no better theological statement that encapsulates John’s instruction in our passage than Lord’s Day 1. These words are particularly important to hear in light of recent events.
“What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Our only comfort in this life is Christ. This is what John is emphasising in his letter! This was the theme of Ephesians. This is the ministry of the church! True life is lived in Christ. We fully, completely, totally belong to him, in this life, and even in the passing from this life into eternal life. There is not a nanosecond in which we do not belong to him. All our days were ordained even before the first one began. We were known to him even before the beginning of the world. We are fully known. And one day we will know him, even as He knows us!
This is why John tells us to turn to Christ in everything: He has fully paid for all our sins. He paid for our sins, not with money, not with all the world, or the universe, but with his very own, priceless blood. We are no longer slaves to the devil. We’re free, we’re not in bondage. The devil can’t harm us, without God’s permission. God is fully in control.
Sometimes it is very hard to understand God. Sometimes it is very hard to understand why God permits certain things to happen. Why does God choose to let His loved ones suffer? Why does God allow people to live in pain, in sorrow, in mourning?
We are not always given the answers to why these things happen, but we are told to trust in God’s sovereignty. Job questioned God, and was humbled by God’s sovereignty. He learned to trust God, and find his strength in Him. Job asked, “shall we accept good from God and not trouble?”
The apostle Paul recounts some of the sufferings he experienced. And yet, he found God’s strength whenever he was weak.
James tells us to consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds, for we know that trials produce perseverance, perseverance produces maturity, so that we will be lacking in nothing! We can’t always understand it, but sometimes things are taken away so that we can receive more. So that we can yearn after what is most important!
We must not despair of God, nor turn against God. God so watches over us that he even knows the number of the hairs on our heads. God wasn’t sleeping a week ago Saturday. God knew what was going on. God, who suffered the pain of losing his Son, is the one who comforts us in life and in death!
All things work together for our salvation. All things work together for our salvation. All things. All things. No matter how hard, no matter how incomprehensible, all things work together. Even gratuitous evil, is transformed by God into blessing.
Baalam was sent to curse Israel. He could not do it. He was forced to speak blessings instead. God eternally protects and defends His people.
Because we belong to Christ, we have the Holy Spirit’s assurance that we have eternal life. We have eternal life. We’re assured of that, right now, right this minute. The Holy Spirit is in you. The Holy Spirit is in me, assuring us of eternal life. There are some who, for whatever reason, will try to say there are no certainties. Or some have said, the only certainties in life are death and taxes. That’s not true! The certainty of the Christian life is the Holy Spirit, living in us, promising that we’ll live forever.
All this truth, all this doctrine, all this good gospel theology, produces a radical change in our hearts, our lives.
What it does is it reminds us that there’s a doughnut around that hole. It reminds us, not that the glass is half full, but that there’s something in the glass! It reminds us that we already have, inside us, far more than we can imagine!
It produces in us a desire to live our lives wholeheartedly for Christ.
It is not because we have to; it is because we want to.
Please don’t give up. Please don’t allow your frustrations with me, or with the church, or with situations in life spoil the eternal joy that is within you!
Because you belong to Christ, live your life wholeheartedly for Christ.
A life lived as a living sacrifice for Christ is one that at its core has the overflowing Joy of the Lord. It is not so much that we sacrifice things in this life, but rather that we choose things that are far, far better.
We, through the Power of the Holy Spirit already at work in us, we choose Christ and all his benefits, and make them our own. Why would we listen to any other spirit? Amen.