I was born from above by the grace of God in June of 1973. It was, if I recall correctly a Thursday. I was working for a pet supply company in St. Louis and was making deliveries to various pet stores throughout mid-Missouri. I was traveling down Interstate 70 toward Columbia, and I had been wrestling with God all morning about the claims of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I had been attending church with Linda since late February or early March. The very first service I attended was the very first time I heard the Gospel of my salvation. I had simply never heard “Jesus saves!” I had grown up hearing “the Church saves by administering the sacraments.” And what the Church “gives” the church can “take away” if you, for some reason do not measure up or you get out of line.
And what was all this singing about? Psalms, and Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, and choirs and any ‘ol church member performing special music, and cantatas—it was so joyous! The only time the congregation ever sang in Roman Catholicism—and it really wasn’t singing, a chant— was when Mass was over: The dismissal—Mass has ended, go in peace. Amen.
And what was this preoccupation with the Scriptures all about? There was Bible study on Sunday morning in Sunday School, and there was Bible study on Sunday evening in Church Training, and there was Bible study on Wednesday night, and two sermons every Sunday took a text of Scripture and expounded it’s meaning and application. Growing up in Roman Catholicism, we were strongly encouraged never to read the Bible because we would most likely mis-interpret it.
And what was all this eating about? Every time you turned around there was a pot-luck dinner, or a dessert fellowship, or a church picnic. This Baptist tradition, I must admit, was not offensive to me in the least.
And what was this personal evangelism all about? Everyone seemed to have a personal interest my eternal condition. After she found out I was attending a Baptist Church even my great Aunt Esther called me and said, “Davie, I’m praying for you.” Well ... isn’t that special? Praying for what? After my conversion I discovered that there has been a “prayer-conspiracy” directed at me. Linda was praying for me. Her folks were praying for me. All of her folk’s friends were praying for me. And they were all praying that I’d “get saved.”
Well, it worked. I “got saved.” I got saved half-way between St. Louis and Columbia while driving a delivery van to Columbia to deliver fish, squeaky toys, and kitty litter! It was an intense emotional experience as the Holy Spirit regenerated my soul and kindled withing me a spirit of repentance and faith.
I don’t recall telling anyone of that experience for about two months. The first thing I did was to buy my very own Bible. Then I began to read it. I discovered that it was not as difficult to understand as my Catechism teacher had led us to believe so many years before. As I read, I would compare what I read with what I was discovering about Baptists and what they believed. In my mind I was slowly checking doctrines off: Doctrine of the Trinity—✔. Doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone—✔. Doctrine of the sufficiency of Scriptures—✔. Doctrine of baptism by immersion—✔. Doctrine of Communion as a symbolic memorial—✔. And the list went on and on. I must admit that the abstinence from “adult beverages” thing was a mystery to me. But I finally saw the wisdom in that as well.
Finally, I came to the conclusion that I was ready to become a Baptist. I responded to an altar call some time in August of 1973 and shared my conversion experience with the Pastor and requested membership by New Testament baptism. I’ve never looked back, nor have I ever lamented my decision.
I am a Christian by conversion, a Baptist by conviction, and a Southern Baptist by choice!
After my conversion, I had two significant influences upon my life that set my feet upon a path of spiritual growth.
First, there was the influence of godly Christians all around me. Most notably this included Linda’s parents, and the families they were close friends with.
- These were believers who believed that you were in church every time the doors were opened. You went to church on Sunday morning, and you went to church on Sunday night, and you went to church on Wednesday night. And you sang in the choir. And if there was a special event—like a church picnic, or work day—you went to that. And if there was a revival, you went every night. This is what faithful Christians did. It was years before I learned that anything other than attending Sunday morning Sunday School and Worship was “optional”!
- These were believers who believed in tithing. I can not recall ever not tithing. Linda tithed. Linda’s parents tithed. Their friends tithed. The preacher said that Christians should tithe. So I just assumed tithing was the normal act of Christian stewardship! This is what faithful Christians did. Again, it was years before I learned that tithing was “optional” and that many believers simply didn’t do it!
- These were believers who loved each other. When they weren’t together at church, they were together in each others homes—eating, and laughing and playing games.
- These were believers who believed. I worshiped with a congregation whose pastor preached, and whose people believed (mostly at least), that the Bible was the infallible, inerrant, authoritative Word of God that was our source for faith and practice. I learned very young in my Christian walk that the Bible says what it means and means what it says.
- This leads me to the second significant influence upon my spiritual life. It was the 1st Epistle of John. When I announced my conversion experience to my Pastor, he said the first book of the Bible I needed to read was 1st John. It was “Christianity 101" he said. A few weeks after my baptism, I headed off to college in Kirksville, MO. My pastor told me that when I got to college, I needed to get involved in the Baptist Student Union. So, after getting settled in to my dorm, exploring the campus and discovering where my classes would be, I went looking for the Baptist Student Union. I got involved and began making new Christian friends. Low and behold, I met another bunch of Christians 1) who believed that you should be in church every time the doors were open, 2) that tithing was a normal act of Christian stewardship, 3) who loved other believers and wanted to be around each other, and 4) who believed the Bible. One of those new friends was David Tripp. When he found out I was a new Christian, he said that the first book of the Bible I needed to read was 1st John. It was “Christianity 101" he said. I started noticing a pattern. Well, I read the First Epistle of John that semester and I’ve read it many times since. It is indeed “Christianity 101.” In this book we find all the fundamental truths we need to know about our Christ and about how to live for Christ, and the importance of living in fellowship with each other.
This morning we will begin a journey through this sermon, for that is what it most likely is. The book bears all the marks of a message from a devoted pastor who had a love and concern for a specific group of believers. While the book neither announces its author nor its recipients, there is a very strong tradition within the early Church that the author is John the Apostle and the recipient is his congregation in Ephesus.
The purpose statement for the Apostle’s sermon is found in 1 John 5:13: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13, NIV84). The key word in the Apostle’s sermon is Fellowship. The Apostle writes so that his readers may understand that fellowship with God the Father—the Creator of the universe—comes through Christ, and that we fellowship with each other because we are in Christ and that Christian fellowship is an indicator of true fellowship with the Father. “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.” (1 John 2:10–11, NIV84).
The reasons the Apostle writes this sermon are as valid today as they were when he first penned this message. There are three primary reasons ...
I. There Was an Easy Familiarity with Christianity That Resulted in a Lukewarm Christianity
- many of the believers in the Church at Ephesus were children and grandchildren of the first Christians
- the new and bright sheen of the Christian faith had become tarnished
- the newness had worn off
- the thrill and glory of the first days had faded
- the Apostle Paul had come to Ephesus decades earlier and challenged Diana of the Ephesians
- the whole town had been in an uproar
- in Acts 19 we read of the effect Paul’s teaching had upon the synagogue at Ephesus and also the impact upon the city through his daily sessions in the school of Tyrannus for two years
- the result was a vibrant Church of believers who had a fervent love and zeal for Christ
- but many years later, when the Lord Jesus sent a letter to the Ephesian believers through John while he was in exile on the Island of Patmos, He said, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (Rev. 2:4)
- what took place among the believers in Ephesus was something Jesus had long before warned of
- “… because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. 24:12)
- the Ephesians’ devotion and dedication to Christ was at a low ebb
- the evidence is all around us
- the result has been an wholesale abandoning of a distinctly Biblical worldview
- the result is that a lukewarm Christianity flourishes in America
II. There Was a Sincere Effort to be Relevant to their Culture That Culminated in Their Becoming Irrelevant for Christ
- the high standards of Christianity made the Christians different, and the children and grandchildren of the first Christians did not want to be different
- the great challenge of the Christian faith has always been how to be relevant to the culture in which it finds itself planted
- but relevance to the culture must never come at the price of compromise with the culture
- the Ephesians had become assembly–line Christians, programmed by the computer of compromise
- they had become plastic Christians
- the succeeding generation of believers had forgotten the words of Jesus
- “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19, NIV84)
- the uniqueness of and particularity of the Gospel of Christ was being lost
III. There Was a Greater Danger from Within the Church of Seductive Teachings Then from Persecutions Outside the Church
- persecution was not the enemy of the Church—it never has been
- persecution has always winnowed the church and frequently reveals who the true believers in Christ are
- the danger to the Ephesian church was not persecution from the outside but seduction from the inside
- the Lord Jesus had warned of this
- “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.” (Matthew 24:24, NIV84)
- “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29–30, NIV84)
- the attempt was being made to improve it—to give it intellectual respectability, and let it speak in the terms of the popular philosophy of the day
- the growing philosophical threat to the early church was a false teaching called Gnosticism
- it came in many forms and had different hues and colors to it, but generally speaking, Gnosticism believed that the material world was essentially evil; only the spirit was good
- what you did with the body didn’t matter, because it was only flesh; only the spirit mattered because it was eternal
- ILLUS. They held that in the body was a spirit, like a seed in the dirty soil.
- at the core of ancient Gnosticism as a denial of absolutes (does that sound familiar)?
- it was a spirituality without doctrine or truth
- they divorced behavior from belief
- well that’s a pretty convenient spirituality!
- the Apostle Paul warned the early church about being seduced by such philosophies
- “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, NIV84)
- Gnosticism is experiencing something of a revival, despite its status within church history as a vanquished heresy
- since the 1960s there has been a rise in neo-Gnosticism
- at the core of this new Gnosticism is a revolution against conventional theology and biblical doctrine and a denial of absolutes
- ILLUS. If you ever visit Palo Alto, California, you can attend the Church of Gnostic Mysteries. If you attend toward the end of July, you can even be inducted into the “Order of Mary Magdelene.” Their web site states: “ ... we acknowledge each sentient being as an embodiment of the divine spark and, therefore, already part or "member" of the Divine Body.” A few paragraphs later it says, “We do not endorse any "doctrine" or "dogma." Beliefs are not important. In fact, it is easier to be open to that touch of Grace in our hearts when we approach it totally empty, naked with the lights on.”
- more and more Americans are embracing an inclusive view of faith and spirituality
- it’s witnessed in the general acceptance of religious pluralism in our culture—that it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe
- the Muslims are trying to get to Heaven their way, and ...
- the Hindus are trying to get to Heaven their way, and ...
- the Christians are trying to get to Heaven their way, and ...
- the Zoroastrians are trying to get to Heaven their way, and ...
- so on, and so on, and so on ...
- ILLUS. In a 2011 religious survey, 43% of Americans said it doesn’t matter what religious faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons. Half of Americans (50%) believe that all people are eventually saved or accepted by God no matter what they do.
- like the Gnosticism of old, the neo-Gnosticism of our day continues to be a spirituality without doctrine or truth claims
Con. The reasons the Apostle writes this sermon are as valid today as they were when he first penned this message.
Over the next several months, we are going to spend some significant time in 1st John. Much of it will be politically incorrect for are age, because the Apostle is going to challenge some of our notions about what it means to walk in the light. His goal is that believers will live the truth—the truth that is found in the person of Jesus, who is the eternal son of God. It is through him, and through him alone, that we have fellowship with the Father, and is the bridge that brings us into fellowship with each other.