Are You a Christian?

Posted: April 20, 2015 by boydmonster in Uncategorized

Turns out I wrote way too much for this sermon and had to cut a lot of it to try and keep some decent level of respect for our timeframe, but I wanted to share the rest of the text.  

Are you a Christian? Perhaps you are here today and your conscience is grieving over some past offense or some ongoing offense.  Perhaps you hear other people’s conversions and look at your own life and you don’t see anything like it. Sometimes I think doing drugs and ending up in jail is a prerequisite for becoming a Christians. Perhaps you look at other “superchristians” and your life simply doesn’t match up. Perhaps you have taken a stab at following Christ more intentionally and it just seems impossible. Perhaps you are just like so many people who feel so close to God here on Sunday morning, and if you’re lucky, that feeling doesn’t dissipate until Monday morning. Most weeks, you hardly make it to your car in the parking lot. You look at your life and you look at the Bible or you look at other Christians and you think “Am I even a Christian?” John is writing to you.

Or maybe those aren’t your issues. Perhaps you’ve never really been truly bothered by the question “Are you a Christian?” Your parents raised you in the church. The only drug problem you ever had was that you got drug to church on Sunday morning, you got drug to church on Sunday evening, you got drug to church on Wednesday evening… Perhaps you have been taught, as a dear friend of mine was once told by her priest “You have been born again. You’ve been baptized.”   (Never mind the fact that Hitler was baptized, confirmed, received mass, and was a communicant in good standing until 1941.) Perhaps the question has never bothered you. In quite a different way, this letter is for you.

John is writing to a church that has fallen into some confusion over what it means to know God. They are confused because false teachers have slipped in and asserted things that were contrary to what they always believed. Jesus Christ was just a man. Sin is just an illusion. We have not sinned. So, they need to know how to know if they have come to know God.

What does it mean to know God? How can we know for sure that we know him? In his great book on couples healing from sexual infidelity, Harry Schaumburg tells the story of a man who after a weeklong retreat of intensive counseling finally collapsed in repentant grief. He fell on his knees and with tears in his eyes begged his wife’s forgiveness. After she extended it to her, he gratefully accepted it and then shocked both counselor and wife by telling them both that he was still going to leave his wife in order to be with his mistress. He was convicted of all the ways that he’d failed in his first marriage and he was going to take what he’d learned in marriage counseling and apply it to his relationship to his mistress. Here was a man who knew God’s word, felt bad about his sin, and wanted to change his life, but did he know God? It’s because of like this that we have to ask “What does it mean for someone to know God?”

Let’s first look at 1 John 2:3-11

You see here, John proposes, as he does elsewhere, a litmus test for how we can know that we know God. Now there’s something interesting John does here with the tenses of his verbs (I know some of you are thinking “Oh boy! Verb tenses.” Stick with me.) He says this is how we know (present tense) that we have come to know Him (perfect tense. Also could be, “that we have been knowing Him,” or “that we have known Him.”) He’s asking this, “how can you have present assurance that you have experienced God in such a way that you know Him.” You may know the old Johnny Cash song “I was there when it happened?”

“There are some people who say we cannot tell

Whether we are saved or whether all is well

They say we only can hope and trust that it is so

Well, I was there when it happened and so I guess I ought to know

Yes, I know when Jesus saved me, saved my soul

The very moment He forgave me, made me whole

He took away my heavy burdens

Lord, He gave me peace within,

Satan can’t make me doubt it,

It’s real and I’m gonna shout it,

I was there when it happened

And so I guess I ought to know

I don’t care who tells me salvation is not real

Though the world may argue, that we cannot feel

The heavy burden’s lifted and the vile sins go

I was there when it happened and so I guess I ought to know

Yes, I know when Jesus saved me, saved my soul

The very moment He forgave me, made me whole

He took away my heavy burdens

Lord, He gave me peace within, peace within

Satan can’t make me doubt it, I won’t doubt it

It’s real and I’m gonna shout it, I’m gonna shout it

I was there when it happened

And so I guess I ought to know

Now, that’s a sweet song, and you can sing it with some joy about when you came to know God. But notice how Johnny Cash answers the question. I know I’m saved, because I can remember an experience I once had. This is exactly the answer that John’s opponents would have given. John gives a different answer.

“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”1 John 2:3 How do we know if we have come to know Him? We know we have come to know Him because we keep his commandments.

Now at first blush you might read that this way “We can be sure that we know God because we’re very obedient to Him and if we keep obeying Him, eventually He’ll notice and reward us by letting us know Him.” I think as we look deeper into the text you’ll see that that’s not the case.

If you were at The Gospel Coalition Conference this last week or were live streaming the talks, Tim Keller mentioned a book by Jacob Needleman Why Can’t We Be Good. In the book, Needleman points out this simple fact that we all too often ignore. We largely know what we are supposed to do and we don’t do it. So, we can talk about how husbands and wives are to act with each other, or how we should take care of the poor or the environment, or whatever, but the simple fact we continuously miss is that we don’t.

John is well aware of this fact, and that’s why he quotes Jesus as saying “No one can come to me unless the father draws him.” He’s not telling us this so that we can despair, he’s telling us 1. Because it’s true and 2. Because it points us to the true solution to our problem. We need a power beyond ourselves in order to do this. John is saying the evidence for our knowledge is shown in the power that we have to overcome sin. He says “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:” You see what John is saying there. If we know God, it can never be simply an intellectual knowledge of God. It must be an intimate and relational knowledge of God. This is what he’s saying in verse 5 “Whoever keeps His word, in Him truly the love of God is perfected.” He’s not saying that we can perfect the love of God through obedience. The word for perfection there is the Greek word telleio. It’s the word we get telescope from. It has not only the connotation of perfection, but perfection according to attaining an intended goal. Think of an arrow flying from an archers bow and nailing the bull’s eye. That’s what he means by perfection. John is saying that the love of God reaches its intended goal when we respond with love for His word and obedience.

Anyone who says they know God and doesn’t obey Him obviously doesn’t know Him. And here’s where this is important: where we don’t want to obey God. You see, if we only obey God where we agree with Him and where it gives us some reward (even if that reward is that we feel good about ourselves), we have to ask if we are really obeying God or just following His advice. But, if obeying God costs us something. If it makes us swallow our pride. If it makes us lose respect or relationships. If we have to do what we don’t want to do and refrain from what we want to do and we do that simply because we love God, then it’s more than religious self-interest.

Now that’s not really the main point of what John is saying, because we haven’t asked the question yet “What do you man by His commandments.” Do you mean the Old Testament Law? Do you mean that gentle nudge I got to do something? John lays it out for us here clearly: 1 John 2:7-11.

Are you confused by that? You know why you aren’t? Because you’re not listening. Listen again: “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you…” Did you catch that? I’m writing not a new, but old commandment, but it’s new. What does John mean by that?

Well, if you’ve read John’s Gospel you may have picked up on it. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”John 13:34 You see, John is saying here “The commandment I’m giving you isn’t new. It’s been around since Jesus was with us in the flesh. In fact, it goes further back than that. Leviticus 19:18 is ancient “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Of course, even before He gave the new commandment, Jesus quoted this as the second commandment that is like the first “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So it’s ancient in the sense that Jesus had said it some decades before John wrote this. But it’s even more ancient than that as what we are told is that the whole law rests on love.

Now, it does bear just taking a moment to talk about love because I believe we live in an age where love has never been more popular or more misunderstood. And here is what I mean: we believe that loving someone entails never disagreeing with them, making them uncomfortable, offending them, or causing them pain. But look at what John says in verse 6 “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” Have you ever stopped to think it wasn’t just the poor and outcast whom Jesus loved? When the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life, we’re told that Jesus looked at him and loved him. I think we often read this story as Jesus saying “Ha! Look at this rich fool. He thinks he can inherit eternal life? Watch this. ‘Try selling everything you own!” When in fact, Jesus looks at him and loves him and says “Sell everything! Then we can run away together!” His love, in that moment, caused him to give a moral demand to that rich young ruler (sell everything you have and come follow me) that he simply couldn’t follow. Do you think Jesus loved or hated the Pharisees? There’s a lot of self-righteousness in the church because people answer this wrong. Of course He loved them. It was over their capital that Jesus wept “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I have longed to gather you…” But it is them whom he calls hypocrites and broods of vipers. Why? Because he loves them.

You see, we’ve fallen victim to thinking that loving people means being nice to them. That kind of love is not love, but co-dependency, and it has more to do with your own need for affirmation than actual care for the other person. Truly loving someone means you care more for their wellbeing than you do for your own. Sometimes that means not being nice. Sometimes that means breaking the relationship. Sometimes it means you confront what is precious to them in order to save them from it. I recently sat with someone and pleaded with them to follow a certain portion of God’s law reminding him how much he is worth before God.

So, love is not simply being nice to people, and sometimes being nice to people isn’t very loving. However, I don’t think that’s why John has written this. I think John is writing this because these false teachers have come in and they’ve confused everyone and he’s writing back with the truth and he’s experienced enough as a pastor that he knows what will happen as they begin to correct. They’ll grow proud and abandon love.

Some churches and some Christians are full of truth and void of love. They can be harsh, critical, and judgmental. They may be right about certain things, but you can quickly tell that people matter little to them. Others are full of ‘love’ but it’s a baseless love. It’s love based on what makes us most happy in the moment. It’s not love based on truth. It’s not love, it’s just sentimentality. In his gospel, John says “Moses came with the law, but Jesus Christ came full of grace and truth.” Jesus Christ, however, is full of truth and love such that truth without love is impossible and vice versa.

But John’s purpose in writing to them is this. Do you want to know if you’ve come to love God? Is the power of God working through you so that you obey His commandments, chiefly the one on loving other believers?You see what he’s saying? He’s saying that it’s not enough just to know about God. I have read almost everything C.S. Lewis published during his life. I’ve read multiple biographies of the man. I’ve read scholarly dissertations on his work. I know a ton about C.S. Lewis. I don’t know him.

You can know a ton about God, but if your knowledge of Him doesn’t move you to love, you don’t know Him. In fact, John says if you don’t love your brother you are blind and you don’t know where you are going. John’s point is this. We are not static human beings, but we are constantly becoming who we are going to be. What do you think that means if we are eternal creatures as well? I may be on a trajectory right now of selfishness and anger such that the older I get the grumpier I get and the more I demand that others conform themselves to me. I may be reasonably happy and able to hold relationships like this for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years. What will I be like in a thousand or ten thousand years?

This is a little understood facet of the New Testament’s teaching on Hell. In Romans 1, we are told that God’s wrath is being revealed and many people take that to mean God’s angry and punishes these certain types of immoral people. Rather, what Paul is clearly saying (and this is without real debate) is that God’s wrath is revealed against people who choose their own will over His by His allowing them to follow what they truly want.

This is sort of what John is saying. If we say we know God and don’t love our brothers, we are deceived people and our supposed love of God is nothing more than our own self-justification for our disdain of others. John says that when the light of the gospel shines on us, we see how God loves us and we become able to love others. However, if we can’t love others it shows that we are blind both to our own sin and God’s love for us. The scariest part of this, is that we don’t really know if this is true of us. The bad thing about being spiritually blind is that you don’t know your blind!

So, John goes on to give the antidote to spiritual blindness. The love of God! Notice what he does here. He simply states the truth “If anyone says they know God and they don’t love God’s people, they’re a liar.” But now consider how God has treated you. 1 John 2:12-14. He’s forgiven you. You have come to know Him. He has overthrown the world for you! He’s made you strong! His word abides in you!

You see, what John knows is what crowds out not only love for our brothers, but love for God. That is why he ends this section with a warning “Love not the world.” Now, John is not saying not to enjoy the world and not to praise God for the world. He’s saying, “don’t look to the world for what you can only find in God.” He gives three examples of how we do this. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Now, when you and I think of lust, we only usually think of it in sexual terms or in terms of a strong and uncontrollable urge. However, when the New Testament talks about lust, it refers to “epithumia” that is, over desires. In other words, these are the things we long for over God Himself. It has been said “In the Old Testament there’s idolatry, in the New Testament there’s lust.”

We find this to be true at the end of John’s epistle too as he warns his audience to “Keep from idols.” This is more than just a final warning, it is the great warning of the book. Here we see it. When we look to find from the world what we can only get from God, it crowds out the love of God.

Now that’s an interesting phrase, “the love of God.” What exactly does that mean? Does it mean love for God? There are ways of saying that. No. It means God’s love for us. And here’s his point. Again, just like everything else John has said, this is not a conditional statement. He’s not saying “if you love the world, God won’t love you.” He’s saying that if we are filled with love for the world, we have no idea how much God loves us. If we look at what he is talking about here: The lust of the flesh. When pleasure is the point of life. The lust of the eyes. When we can never have enough. The pride of life. When our tiny little empires become our boast.

For John, it is unthinkable that we would turn to these when what is offered to us is the Father of an infinite majesty, His adorable, true and only Son, also the Holy Ghost the Comforter. And yet we do.

I want to take a moment and talk to our youth and give you a little warning. It is dangerous to grow up in the church. It’s dangerous because you grow up with good morals in a community of good people, and you can begin to look outside and think that you have been deprived of something.

So you go to college, and you begin to do what you would have been afraid to do under your parents roof and you feel guilty about it. And then you go to a philosophy class and you hear some half baked reason why everything you ever believed is wrong and you latch on to it not because you are convinced, but because it gives you an excuse to do what you know is wrong. In fact, this pattern is so predictable that I know one pastor who says whenever he has a college student come back and say they don’t believe any of this stuff anymore the first thing he asks them is who they are sleeping with. The point being that it’s really not about being convinced, it’s about the love of the world. Thinking that you can get more out of the world than out of God. So you begin to think that maybe all that jazz in the bible is just bunk. That’s the lust of the flesh.

Then you graduate and you get a job and you begin to look at all the stuff your colleagues have and you can see all their possessions and none of their debt. So you throw yourself into work. And the fellowship of the church suffers for it. But you figure that someday things will slow down enough where you can be engaged in the life of the church, so you just sort of put the church on standby and you put Jesus on a backburner and you focus on your career. And the accrual of stuff crowds out your relationship with God and His people. That’s the lust of the eyes.

And after you’ve hammered away at that, you have your own empire. It might be a big kingdom, or it might be as small as your recliner. You start to think you’re pretty good at this life thing. But you begin to think that you deserve more and so life becomes about you. There’s no sacrifice. There’s no taking up of your cross. There’s no laying down your life for others. Just me and my family and my pleasure. That’s the pride of life. And all the while your love for God is growing colder and colder.

And parents, whether your kids are twelve or thirty, you may be listening to this and you may be grief stricken at your own children in their wanderings but let me gently chide you and say, you cannot give to your children what you do not have. You might be able to dupe everyone at church into thinking you love Jesus, but you’ll never dupe your children. If you love the world more than you love Jesus, guess what you are passing on to your children. Don’t be surprised then, if they walk away from Jesus for the world.

But the point is this: If the world is more attractive to you than the Father, you have no idea how much He loves you. In The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantes is betrayed by his enemy, Fernand Mondego, who has him falsely imprisoned and steals from him the love of his life. He comes back decades later for revenge and manipulates Mondego’s son into challenging him to a duel simply so that he can get vengeance by killing his son and getting away with it. On the eve of the duel, his former lover comes to him. She did not know what had become of Edmond and only learns that her husband had betrayed him in order to steal her from him that night years ago. Still, she pleads for her son’s life.

“Have you known what it is to have your father starve to death in your absence?” cried Monte Cristo, thrusting his hands into his hair; “have you seen the woman you loved giving her hand to your rival, while you were perishing at the bottom of a dungeon?”

“No,” interrupted Mercedes, “but I have seen him whom I loved on the point of murdering my son.” Mercedes uttered these words with such deep anguish, with an accent of such intense despair, that Monte Cristo could not restrain a sob. The lion was daunted; the avenger was conquered. “What do you ask of me?” said he,—”your son’s life? Well, he shall live!” Mercedes uttered a cry which made the tears start from Monte Cristo’s eyes; but these tears disappeared almost instantaneously, for, doubtless, God had sent some angel to collect them—far more precious were they in his eyes than the richest pearls of Guzerat and Ophir.

“Oh,” said she, seizing the count’s hand and “raising it to her lips; “oh, thank you, thank you, Edmond! Now you are exactly what I dreamt you were,—the man I always loved. Oh, now I may say so!”

“So much the better,” replied Monte Cristo; “as that poor Edmond will not have long to be loved by you. Death is about to return to the tomb, the phantom to retire in darkness.”

“What do you say, Edmond?”

“I say, since you command me, Mercedes, I must die.”

“Die? and why so? Who talks of dying? Whence have you these ideas of death?”

“You do not suppose that, publicly outraged in the face of a whole theatre, in the presence of your friends and those of your son—challenged by a boy who will glory in my forgiveness as if it were a victory—you do not suppose that I can for one moment wish to live. What I most loved after you, Mercedes, was myself, my dignity, and that strength which rendered me superior to other men; that strength was my life. With one word you have crushed it, and I die.”

“But the duel will not take place, Edmond, since you forgive?”

“It will take place,” said Monte Cristo, in a most solemn tone; “but instead of your son’s blood to stain the ground, mine will flow.” Mercedes shrieked, and sprang towards Monte Cristo, but, suddenly stopping, “Edmond,” said she, “there is a God above us, since you live and since I have seen you again; I trust to him from my heart. While waiting his assistance I trust to your word; you have said that my son should live, have you not?”

“Yes, madame, he shall live,” said Monte Cristo, surprised that without more emotion Mercedes had accepted the heroic sacrifice he made for her. Mercedes extended her hand to the count.”

Excerpt From: Alexandre Dumas. “The Count of Monte Cristo.” iBooks.”

He finds out why she so stoically accepted the sacrifice the next day when the son comes and begs for forgiveness. Edmond Dantes finds that moved by his willingness to sacrifice his own life for her son, Mercedes had told the whole tale of her husbands deception bringing him to ruin and losing all of her vast fortune becoming penniless and homeless herself because of his shame. Moved by Dantes’ willingness to sacrifice his own life for the sake of her son’s, she was willing to sacrifice everything she had to save Dantes’ life.

Do you see that this is how the father has loved you? He didn’t spare His own Son, but sent Him to die for you. Love the world? Why? If the Son is mine I can give up all the world if I still keep Him. This is what allows us to love our brothers as Christ loved us. It is only because of His sacrificial love for us that we can begin to have sacrificial love for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Are you a Christian? Do you obey God, not perfectly, but even when you don’t want to? Do you love those who are loved by God? Does His love for you free you to sacrifice for the sake of others?

Or are you like that husband we began talking about who could agree with a marriage counselor and say sorry to his wife all the while he harbored a secret love in his heart?

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