2008-11-02 1 John 5:13-21 Good Grip
Throughout his life, Martin Luther was devout person. Though for the first 30 years of his life, he was terrified of God. In those days, Jesus was portrayed as the Just Judger. Jesus sent people to purgatory and the flames of hell. Even as a monk, Martin Luther was so overcome by his sinfulness, that he confessed as often as 20 times a day. He punished himself for his sins by sleeping on the frigid concrete floor.
He followed the church’s teaching on atoning for sin, by praying certain prayers, by paying for this or that, or by visiting Rome. At age 27, he was sent to Rome to represent his monastery. When he saw the abuses taking place in Rome, he began to doubt the official teachings of the church. Still he lived in turmoil, his superior told him to stop striving so hard to make himself right with God, to just love God. Luther replied, “Love God? I hated Him!”
Three years later, while studying the Psalms, still overcome by his sinful shame, feeling condemned by God and desolate, he was astounded to read the words Christ quoted from the Cross, there in Psalm 22. “My, God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” At that moment he realised that Jesus Christ wasn’t simply the frightening Just Judger, he was one who knew desolation and condemnation as well. He was someone who could relate to Luther, someone to whom Luther could relate.
Still the full understanding of what would become the start of the Reformation didn’t happen until a couple of years later, when he was preaching on the book of Romans. There in chapter 1:17, he read, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” He was astounded by those words! “The righteous will live by faith.”
It was then that he knew that the church was heading in the wrong direction. Instead of preaching righteousness through faith, the Roman Catholic Church was preaching righteousness through the purchase of indulgences, prayers, sacraments, confession and pilgrimages.
Luther became furious at the Pope and those who persisted in preaching this false gospel. He saw the truth, and he recoiled from those who were purposely hiding the truth in order to pay for their building programs, their rings, and their finery. He spared no harsh word in dealing with these folks, even going so far as to call the Pope the anti-Christ, devil’s spawn, and many other words that I shouldn’t say from the pulpit.
If you’re concerned by Luther’s language, keep in mind that Jesus said similar things of the Pharisee leaders, calling them whitewashed tombs and devils spawn. When you accuse someone’s mother of sleeping with the devil, you’re using fighting words, that’s for sure.
But why? Why use such strong language? Why fight so much? What is at stake here?
Look again at verse 19 in our passage. “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”
There are only two camps here. Either you’re for Christ or you’re against Christ. The Papists were against Christ. They were hiding the truth about Christ, that salvation is through Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.
They were denying people that gift! They were purposely deluding people to serve their own purposes.
It is like walking up to a restaurant seeing the menu posted on the door, full of mouth watering pictures of incredibly delicious food, going in, ordering and getting gruel instead.
There is no amount of money that you can spend on indulgences that can bring about peace with God. Peace with God comes only through believing that He forgives you your sins through the atonement bought by Christ’s blood.
If you believe in Christ, if you’ve accepted his promises, His righteousness, then you are right with God. You have overcome the world already. Satan can’t touch you. He can pester you, tempt you, entice you, even lead you to sin, but he cannot rob the truth of everlasting life from you. That’s what Paul says in Romans 8. Neither height, nor depth, neither angels nor demons, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Now John identifies two different kinds of sins. The sin that leads to death is the rejection of God. It is the hardheartedness of Pharaoh. It is the persistent disbelief of atheists.
It is the rejection of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Luther saw what John was getting at. He saw that the papists, the Pope, the cardinals, the church officials were wilfully rejecting Christ. They were teaching a different gospel.
Now, it is interesting that when John says, there is a sin that leads to death, he says do not pray for that. The sin that leads to death, the rejection of Jesus Christ, well, you don’t pray for forgiveness for them, John says. They’ve rejected Christ, don’t pray.
Luther, as I already mentioned, got very angry with those who purposely hid the gospel. He constantly complained that whenever he tried to argue with them, they would refuse to quote scripture, instead, they treated the church fathers as on par with scripture and would quote them to him. He grew so frustrated he cried out, “Will none of them use scripture?” Of course they wouldn’t because they knew they didn’t have a leg to stand on.
Luther wrote back and forth with Erasmus, and similarly grew frustrated with him, because Erasmus wouldn’t acknowledge the gospel. Eventually he got so fed up, he said, whenever I pray, I ask God to curse Erasmus. And Luther prayed often.
To us this sounds so shocking. This is not anything like being politically correct. What do you mean, Luther asked God to curse Erasmus? Wasn’t Erasmus one of us? No, what Luther was doing was being obedient to Scripture. Paul says in Galatians 1:8 “if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” The Papists were presenting a gospel other than the one Paul preached.
We cannot afford to be cavalier about this. We cannot afford to simply be nice, when the truth of the gospel is at stake. We have to deal with false doctrine, false teaching immediately. That’s why we have elders present at every service. They’re watching my preaching, making sure that I’m preaching the true gospel.
Why is this important? Because eternal lives are at stake here. People need to hear the truth! If they don’t hear it, how will they come to Christ? How will they ever break out of bondage of sin? They can’t do it on their own, they need Christ to set them free. That’s our job. And it’s our job, because through Christ, we’ve overcome the world.
For whatever reason, there are many Christians who are not living as they should. How do we deal with them? Second, what should Christian living look like?
So, what do we do about those who claim to be followers of Christ, and yet, by their lifestyle it is clear that they are not following Christ? John tells us to pray that God will give them life.
I find this fascinating. The first thing we do is pray for them.
Ask yourself this question, am I that kind of person? Am I avoiding the Christian lifestyle?
Bill Hybels, in his Bible study on character, asks this question, “Who are you when no one is around?” Who are you when you think no one can see you? How do you behave when there aren’t church people around? What kinds of pictures do you have on your blog, on your Facebook account? Would you want your parents to look atht them? Would you want your pastor to look at them?
What do those pictures say about you? Do they show that your greatest joy is found in Christ, or do they show that you are looking for joy in a bottle, from certain friends, by going to parties?
Don’t misunderstand here. You can do things in moderation. But if you need to get drunk every weekend, you have a problem. If you need to dress provocatively in order to get people to look at you, then you have an image problem.
It’s no different than the Papists. If you have to do all those things in order to be satisfied, then you’re seeking someone or something other than Christ.
Everything we need we find in Christ and Christ alone. You can keep trying to find it elsewhere, but you will never succeed. Read Ecclesiastes. Read Proverbs. It’s already been done; there is nothing new under the sun. The gospel is as true and relevant today as it was 491 years ago, as it was 2000 years ago. Trust in Christ, you will be satisfied.
Second, how do we live as Christians? We live as those who have conquered the world, through Christ.
This means that though there are all sorts of tactics that Satan uses to try to lead us astray, that ultimately, they’ll fail. We’ve conquered him already. The battle is nearly over. All there are is a few more skirmishes.
I titled this morning’s sermon “good grip.” This has two connotations. First, and most important, we’re in God’s grip. God, through Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit has us firmly in his grip. Nothing can take us away from that. Not pain, not suffering, not doubt, not insecurity, not even sin, nothing can separate us from God. In fact, we cannot reject God once we’ve given our lives to Him. That’s the promise of the perseverance of the saints. God’s got us in His grip.
And yet, we also grip on to God. We grip onto him by believing his promises for us. We grab onto him by trusting in His word, and accepting His Son’s righteousness.
We grab on by following His commandments, by doing His will, by being diligent readers of His Word! Therein we find true joy, true freedom, true blessing, true peace, and true happiness.
Are you feeling that? Probably some of us aren’t. I wasn’t even just yesterday. It’s so easy to lose sight of Christ. It is so easy to look away. And once we’ve looked away, sometimes it is hard to bring our focus back on Christ.
I say it is sometimes hard because Satan peppers us with lies, trying to convince us that Jesus doesn’t want us back, we’re not good enough, all that crap.
But Satan is full of it. Don’t listen to Him. Fill yourself with the truth! We’re children of God!
John says, “we know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin. That is, anyone born of God resists sin. This doesn’t mean that suddenly we become sinless and never actually commit sin again.
No, this means that we no longer persist in sin. We’re constantly being awakened to our sin, we’re constantly under the conviction of the Holy Spirit to confess, repent and seek after God’s commandments. We are kept safe from God, and Satan can never lead us to deny Christ ever.
So, let us, like Luther, strive to live in the freedom of the Gospel. Let us not ever burden others with excessive and unbiblical rules and regulations, such as the kinds of songs we sing, or the style of clothes that we wear, for is it not more important to realize that we’re all clothed with Christ?
And being clothed with Christ, let us watch how we live. Let us stay away from idols.
No, John isn’t just talking about those things made from stone, wood and metal. He’s talking about us. We can idolize ourselves. We can elevate ourselves to where God alone belongs. That’s what we do when we choose not to follow His will.
We’ve been spared the false teaching of the Pharisees, the heresy of the Gnostics and the bribery of the popes. Let us not willingly choose to place ourselves under the yoke of anyone else but Christ. For He himself gave a promise that no one else can give, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). Amen.