Sure of eternal life?
1. Introduction - am I sure of eternal life? How can I be sure?
As I reflect back on the events of the last 2 weeks one of the greatest contrasts I noticed was the hope of the Christians over against the hopelessness of those who are not yet Christians. It was clear and stark. I have great confidence that Andrew is now with Jesus in heaven. I have great confidence that I will be there with him one day. But what about you? I want to ask you today, are you sure that you will be there?
Friends, God wants us to be sure, and he wants us to know we can be sure. Today as we reflect some more on 1 John this letter is all about being sure. Now if you’re in Seniors but not in MU I’m sorry you’ve missed the first of these studies – for we are going through the MU studies for this year which from 1 John. But I’m sure you’ll still be blessed greatly by being here.
Looking through 1 John is a little like going to the doctor for a health check. There he or she is, checking out all your vital functions - blood pressure, heart rate, lung capacity, whatever - to see what sort of physical shape we’re in. Well in 1 John we check out our vital spiritual signs, and there are 3 – do we have a true understanding of the person and Lordship of Jesus; are we seeking to be obedient to God; and do we really love each other practically. If they all check out we’re in great spiritual shape and can be sure of being with Jesus in heaven forever. But if any one of them is a flat line, then we are in very serious trouble.
Today we’re going to have a check-up, as we look briefly at these 3 tests, so you might like to turn to 1 John 2.
2. The truth about Jesus (2:1-2)
The first area we must get right is a true understanding of Jesus. John gives us a very succinct summary there in vv1-2 – READ.
3 truths we get from these first 2 verses
- we are people who sin. We are not perfect yet. Christians should be trying to stop sinning, it’s part of why John writes – v1a - I write this so you will not sin. But we do sin – if you think you don’t ask your best friend.
And that’s not a good position to be in because of the 2nd point -
- God the Father will judge sin. Heb 9:27 tells us ‘we are destined to die once and after that to face judgement’. When Andrew died he came before the judgement seat of God. So will I, when I die, so will you. And it’s not a good place to be if you are guilty of sin. And John has already said we are – so are we in a hopeless position?
- Not necessarily. It depends on what we’ve done with Jesus. For as we stand before the judgement seat of God Jesus will be there. He will either be your prosecutor or your defence lawyer.
As prosecutor he will be ruthlessly effective – for he knows all my thoughts, words and deeds. He will prove very easily how guilty of sin I am, how much I didn’t know God at all, despite how much I think I can show God how good I’ve been.
But he can also appear as my defence lawyer. See the end of v1 – he can speak to the father in my defence. How can he do this? Why would God take his life into account in my case? The answer is in v2 – Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for my sins, for our sins, indeed for all sins.
I cannot appease the wrath of God at my sin. I can’t. You can’t. But in Jesus God has done it for us. This one who lived a sinless life died – a pure, sinless sacrifice – for us. Jesus has paid the price for me, he has taken God’s sentence on me. It is why Good Friday is good. But will I accept Christ’s work?
Friends I must understand the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done for me. I have no spiritual life unless I do that.
3. Be obedient (2:3-6)
But Christianity is not just about a man dying on a cross is it? A number of people I speak to know that Jesus died on a cross for sins. They might even believe he rose from the dead. But it doesn’t seem to make any difference to their lives.
Christianity is about committing my life to Jesus, and walking with him in my life, in fact giving him control over my life. And this is the issue in the second test in vv3-6 – do I obey God?
Vv3-6 are concerned with obedience. So v3 - READ. Do I obey Jesus’ commands? The story is told of the young man who had just become a Christian. He said ‘I don’t need to obey God’s law now, I just need to love Jesus.’ And we do need to love Jesus, indeed we will want to love him because of who he is and what he has done for us. But how do you show your love for Jesus? Send him some Easter eggs? Or a Valentine’s Card? Some flowers perhaps? No. Jesus says in John 14:15 ‘if you love me you will ... obey what I command’ So it is not enough, v4, to say I am a Christian and not do what Jesus commands. Such a person John says is a liar.
The real test of a person is what they do not what they say? Do they walk the walk?
Often the biggest problem for new Christians or for people who aren’t yet Christians and meet Christians or come into church, is the hypocrisy of the people who call themselves Christians. They are just like the world, disobeying God and not loving others.
But John says in v6, if you claim to be a Christian, you must walk as Jesus did. If you claim to be in a personal relationship with God, people should be able to see it in your life.
So let’s be honest with ourselves - think about those people you know who aren’t yet Christians - when they see you what do they see, someone different to them or someone who seems much the same? Same ambition, same attitudes, same values, same behaviour, same drive, same loves?
John says in v5, when we keep God’s word, then God’s love, is made complete in us. The more we obey God, the more we let His love for us accomplish its purpose in our lives.
So what does obedience look like? It’s not perfection. John recognises we sometimes get it wrong. Rather he is talking about our manner of life. What are our actions and life determined by? By God and what He says, or by the world? Can you see changes in your life, your character, your mind, as a result of being a Christian?
ILLN – Remember John Newton, the writer of ‘Amazing Grace’, converted from life as a slave-trading sea captain. He said at one stage - ‘I am not what I ought to be, but I am not what I once was. And it is by the grace of God that I am what I am.’ Can you say that?
Our lives show whether we are in fellowship with God or not. Heartfelt obedience shows that we love God. It is not an optional extra in the Christian walk. We are called to a life of obedience, for that is how Jesus lived. He is our model, v6 and we must walk as Jesus did.
Now let me say that does not mean we will all do miracles, or have amazing spiritual, even mystical, experiences. Walking as Jesus did is about character – it is the daily, detailed, disciplined obedience of Monday to Saturday rather than just the amazing worship and praise of Sunday. That is where we become more like Jesus, as obedience in the day to day choices and decisions of life brings growth and maturity.
How are you going at obeying Jesus’ commands? Are you walking as He did? Are there areas in your life where you need to repent and ask God to help you obey Him.
Our second key sign of spiritual life, of eternal life, is obedience to God.
The third flows out of it, and it is love for other Christians.
3. Love one another (vv7-11)
John picks it up in vv7-11. It’s not a new test. We saw in the OT in our first reading didn’t we - Lev 19:18 ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. This law doesn’t have a use-by date.
And yet it is new. Jesus says in John 13:34 ‘a new command I give you: love one another.’
Why is it new? 2 reasons - it has a new focus, we are to love all people but to particularly love other Christians, and secondly, it has a new standard - it is measured by the love of Jesus himself, as seen in His death on the cross. John 13:34 continues ‘as I have loved you, so you must love one another.’ Christians are to love one another as much as Jesus has loved them. WOW! Imagine if we really loved one another this way.
So, if you are a Christian do you love your fellow Christians? Do you love the people you see around you right now? Not with a soppy, sentimental love, but with an active love, that cares for their needs above your own, despite what it may cost you? If I’m not willing to do that then I love me more than you, and John says that is equivalent to hating you. Strong language isn’t it.
ILLN – and thankfully we do know many great stories of people in here, people in MU and Seniors rallying around one another in their need. Caring for them practically, emotionally, spiritually. That is Christian love.
Yet we need to ask - are there people I need to love, not hate? Is there someone I need to speak to, write to or ring. Do do today, so that, v10 you do not stumble into sin. For if we do not love, we sin.
Our 3rd sign of spiritual life – do we love other Christians? What would your doctor say?
3 tests we’ve looked at - do we truly understand who Jesus is, do we truly obey God, do we truly love other Christians. Of themselves they do not give us eternal life - only God does that. But they are signs of whether we have eternal life, grounds for Christian hope & confidence.
John wants us to encouraged and to keep going in the Christian walk. And so he writes in vv12-14 some great words of encouragement to 3 groups of Christians.
4. Remember your experiences (12-14)
See by this stage some may be getting depressed. John has been very strong about the need to obey and love. So he interrupts his flow to reassure and encourage them – they are forgiven, they do know God, they have overcome the evil one.
ILLN – Sophie is in Year 2 now and she has to do home reading – a short book each day. She does a pretty good job, speaking as an unbiased father. I love encouraging her in her work, and everyone needs encouragement. But sometimes I need to correct her, to say gently that’s not right, it should be said like this, or look at how it’s spelt.
John does both here. He has corrected us and rebuked us, and now encourages us.
Who are these dear children, fathers and young men? It seems to me that dear children are all Christians, this is how John refers to them throughout this letter. And I take it then that fathers are the spiritually mature and probably older Christians. Both male and female. And the young men are the younger and perhaps more immature Christians. Again male and female.
And he writes twice in these verses to each group.
For all Christians - you know what it is, v12 to have your sins forgiven on account of the name of Jesus. You know what it is like to have a clean heart. And v13c - you know God as father. Not as some distant, non-approachable God, but you know the holy, sovereign creator of everything, you know this God as father. Don’t forget that, and don’t cheapen it or take it too lightly.
And to you more senior Christians - maybe been a Christian for 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years or more - the encouragement is the same in v13a and v14a - you have known him who is from the beginning. Your body may be failing, your health not what it used to be, but you have an incredibly deep knowledge of God and relationship with him, built up over decades, and through so many of life’s experiences, both good and bad, you have drawn far closer to God than us who are younger, don’t sacrifice these things. Hang on to the one you know so well.
And to the younger Christians - well John encourages them the most. They are the new leaders-to-be of the church, they are the ones with the energy, the drive, the stamina, the potential. They are the ones v14b who are strong. And twice he says to them in v13b and v14b - remember you have overcome the evil one; you have entered the fray, you have started the battle and begun to taste the victory which is Christ’s. And you are doing it v14b as the Word of God lives in you and starts to change your thinking, as you start to think Christianly and start to think God’s thoughts. The Christian walk is a battle, but they are strong, they have the word of God to fight with, and they are on Jesus’ side, and so they have overcome the evil one.
5. Be encouraged and be assured!
Friends, these verses are here to encourage us! At whatever stage of Christian maturity we are. Remember your experiences, not to inflate your ego, but to keep you in the truth. Remember these things when you keep hearing godless messages in the media; remember these things when your friends (in Rotary, hobbies, sports, school, work) tell you there is no hope and no future; remember these things when others doubt you or mock you or try to tempt you to join them; remember these things when others turn away from the things you believe.
In Christ our sins are forgiven. In Christ we have fellowship with God. In Christ we are empowered to love and obey God. In Christ we have overcome the evil one. In Christ we can be sure of eternal life, of going to heaven. And so in Christ we can and should live this life in confident assurance.
The Christian walk is a long walk. But it is the only way to walk, if you want to know God and be with Him forever. Friends do you trust in Christ, are you united with him by faith, if so you are right with God. So keep obeying God and keep loving the rest of us. Tonight, before your head hits the pillow, and each night this week, will you do two things - thank Jesus for the salvation He has brought - and pray that this week you will obey God more and love other Christians more.