How are you doing? Are you feeling well? My shoulder is bothering me, though I'm taking physical therapy for it. I'm very thankful that an onset of the shingles a few weeks ago went away after a few days of medicine. I'm doing okay with my diabetes, but I need to be exercising more and can do a better job monitoring my sugar levels.
I suspect I may have already given you more information than you care to know about my health. But I and the elders of Tenth Church are very interested in your health, your spiritual health, that is. Now, I don't mean each of you individually. We do care about each of you, but the you I am speaking of right now is the whole body of you, this local body of Christ called Tenth Presbyterian Church.
A doctor treats individuals, and a good doctor treats each patient with individual attention. But he would not be a good doctor if he ignored the health of his patients overall. It does matter if overall his patients improve with his treatment or get worse. It matters if there is one type of ailment that he has not been successful in diagnosing. Indeed, diagnosing is the key to his success or failure.
This survey is one effort to diagnose the whole body. Time will tell how effective it will be. Much depends on your forthrightness in taking it; and much depends on how well the test itself measures your true health. Measuring is the tough part. Knowing what needs measuring is the easy part. Easy? Very easy; God's Word makes clear the three conditions necessary for true spiritual health. They are truth, righteousness, and love.
When Dr. Boice preached through 1 John back in the mid 70s, he made this observation derived from his studies. He saw that:
the apostle John also works on a more practical level, showing that the Christian can be assured of his salvation in that God has brought about fundamental changes in his life. He has given him a sure knowledge of himself in Jesus Christ. This involves truth. He has given him a desire to pursue and obey the commandments of Christ. This involves righteousness. He has given him a new relationship with other believers. This involves love.
Another way of looking at these three changes is to see them as tests for knowing where one stands with God in regard to salvation and spiritual health. John said that he wrote his epistle to give assurance to believers of their salvation. Chapter 5:13 states: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” Throughout his letter, then, he brings up repeatedly these tests. The first he speaks of is what John Stott calls the moral test (the test of righteousness or obedience). The second is the social test (the test of love), and the third the doctrinal test (belief in Jesus Christ). (When you take the survey, you will find it divided in these three categories.)
The reason I chose this particular text is that it brings all three together. Let’s see, then, what it has to say.
We first see doctrine: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God… Belief is evidence of regeneration, at least that God is at work in the individual. Remember when Peter made his great confession? “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew gives Jesus’ response: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-17).
People can make any statement, but to come to a saving faith in this truth requires more than a mere mental assent. What Jesus said to Nicodemus applies to us all, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). Jesus said the same thing to a grumbling crowd. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). And so John is repeating what he has no doubt taught many times. It is when one has been born again, that he will make the true confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, our Savior and Lord.
Now, if it is the Father who draws us to belief in his Son, know that this belief will bring with it love for the Father. He who believes in Jesus, God’s Son, will know and love the Father. They go together.
John then segues into the social test: and everyone who loves the Father loves whomever has been born of him. To be born of God is to be born into God’s family, and, as our mothers have impressed upon us, we are going to love our brothers and sisters whether we like it or not! Family is family. We don’t choose who belongs; but because we belong to Christ and thus belong to one another; because we love the same Father and are his children; because we know the love of Christ and of the Father, we will love one another.
John then segues into the moral test: 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. This is a helpful instruction in knowing what true love is about. Again, our mothers already know this principle. They tell us, “You don’t have to like your little brother; but you’ve got to be nice to him. You can’t pick on him. You’ve got to watch out for him. You’ve got to share. And (this is the clincher) you’ve got to set a good example.”
How do we love our spiritual brothers and sisters? By setting a good example in the way we live for God. And by treating one another according to the commandments that God has set forth. The best thing we can do is love God with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength. If we love God, then we will obey his commandments: 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.
This has all been easy to follow so far. To have saving faith in Jesus Christ is a sign that we are born again. Because we are born into the family of God, we are naturally going to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. And the way we show our love to God and family is by obeying God’s commandments. This is easy enough to understand, but it is the next statement that is hard to take in: And his commandments are not burdensome.
Who is John that he could make such a statement? Is he some kind of super apostle who belongs to an elite class of holy saints? Is he really saying, “How hard can it be to keep God’s commands? How tough can it be to love everybody?” Was he sleeping through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that can be summed up by Jesus’ words, “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”?
John, to be sure, knows what he is talking about, and he leads us to understanding his words through the last two verses. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. Somehow, we have overcome the world which removes the burden of God’s commandments. How have we overcome? And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. What is John saying? That as long as you believe really, really hard you can overcome anything? No. This is not a “dream big” speech. It is not the power of faith, but the power of the one in whom faith is placed. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Think through this. There are the burdensome commands of the world’s religions. Jesus accused the religious leaders of his day of placing heavy burdens on the shoulders of the people. So many “traditions of men” were developed that, not only were they impossible to keep, they could actually end up breaking the very commandments of God they were suppose to uphold! Some religions require burdensome religious exercises, such as long and precise forms of prayer or meditation, pilgrimages, fasting and other ascetic practices. Some religions focus on doing good works. Whatever the means, the idea is that we must carry out some set of rules to get saved or get connected with God, or whatever the goal of the religion is. These commands are burdensome in that, not only is the keeping of them a burden to carry out, the commands actually accomplish nothing. They only reveal our weakness; they only make our relationship with God a burden.
God’s commands, on the other hand, are not burdensome because already he has brought us into a saving, loving relationship through faith in Jesus Christ. We have overcome the world because Christ has delivered us from the world’s hold on us. “He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world” (4:4). He has delivered us out of the kingdom of darkness into his kingdom. Furthermore, his commands are not those of a drill sergeant screaming at us, “Faster, faster, harder, harder!” The commands of our loving Father and of our Lord are our guides and support to lead us into peace, into maturity and confidence.
So, there are the burdensome commands of the world’s religions. There are also the temptations and teachings of the secular world that oppose the morals and principles of God’s kingdom. What chance do we have against these things, considering that Satan is also working against us, and, most problematic, our flesh is weak and corrupted with sin? What kind of overcoming can we do?
John tells us in his epistle. For one thing, we can confess our sins, knowing that God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). We can confess “what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (3:1). We can confess “that Jesus is the Son of God, [knowing that] God abides in [us], and [we] in God (4:16).
Such confessing is overcoming the world. Let us hold fast to our confession and turn to the one we believe has overcome the world for us. We believe that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. We confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who showed us the incredible love of God by leaving glory, taking on our flesh, and in that flesh making atonement for our sins. We have such confidence in Christ that, though our spiritual surveys might show we are still a mess, if we ask anything according to his will, he hears and he will answer.
We love God because of the unimaginable love of God by which he first loved us, not because we hope he might reciprocate with some love of his own. We gladly take his commandments and follow them because they are God’s blessings to us, not because through them we might get into his good graces or keep in his favor. And so we love each other and help each other to hold on to these truths and to walk along the path of life.
Do we mess up? Sure we do. If we say we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and his word is not in us (1:10). Do we get cranky with one another? Yes. We fail many times, and we could regard everyday as another account of our failures. But our record keeping is not to be of our sins and failures, but of God’s grace and mercy shown to us through Christ. Brothers and sisters, we have overcome the world that would shackle us to sin and its guilt; we have overcome the world by looking to Jesus the Christ, the Son of God who came in the flesh to set us free from sin and the law that would bind us to sin; we have overcome the world by going again and again to the throne of grace where we will receive mercy and find grace.
© 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By D. Marion Clark. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org