"Real Christians" by Rod Bayley, 7 November 2010, 1 John 1

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Danny

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Dec 1, 2010, 8:22:14 PM12/1/10
to Sermons from Wollongong Baptist Church
Secession is the act of withdrawing from an organization, union, or
especially a political entity. There are literally hundreds of
political examples of secession, or break-away nations around the
world, where groups of people have left their former nation. Closer
to home, secession movements have surfaced several times in Western
Australia, where a 1933 referendum for secession from the rest of
Australia actually passed with a two-thirds majority. The referendum
had to be ratified by the British Parliament, which declined to act,
on the grounds that it would contravene the Australian Constitution.
More interesting still is the Principality of Hutt River. The
principality has claimed to be an independent sovereign state since
its foundation in 1970, but has never been formally acknowledged by
the Commonwealth of Australia or anyone else. It’s just a large
farming property 517 km north of Perth. It was founded on 21 April
1970 by Leonard George Casley, when he and his associates proclaimed
their secession from the state of Western Australia. The province was
created in response to a dispute with the WA government over what the
Casley family saw as draconian wheat quotas. Initially the five
families who owned farms in Hutt River banded together to fight the
quota but when the government threatened to "resume" their rural lands
under compulsory acquisition, Casley and his associates resorted to a
British law (the Treason Act 1495) which they felt allowed them to
declare their independence from WA. He styled himself as ‘His Royal
Highness Prince Leonard of Hutt’ to take advantage of a Commonwealth
law that a monarch could not be charged. Although the law has since
changed, the Australian government has not taken any action. Its
official position is that it is nothing more than a private enterprise
operating under a business name.

But despite that, the principality has proceeded to release a number
of its own stamps and currency. Prince Leonard makes his own laws,
he has his own mail system. He even has his own gift shop, as
tourists are apparently growing in number. European television even
covered his 60th wedding anniversary to Princess Shirley in Easter of
2007, which was commemorated with the first new issue of coins since
2000. You gotta love it.

However, although the larrikin Australian in us thinks its funny, it’s
quite a serious thing to leave your prior group in some contexts. If
a group of believers go out from a church, and leave because they want
to redefine Jesus and the gospel, you have a major issue that needs to
be addressed. Particularly if those who have left the church are
seeking to influence others with their false doctrines and are causing
great confusion. Such is the backdrop to the letter of 1 John. In 1
John 2:18-19 we read:
“Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the
antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is
how we know it is the last hour. 19They went out from us, but they
did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they
would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them
belonged to us.”

The heretical views or false doctrines of this break-away group is
summarised later in the letter, where it becomes clear that they held
different views concerning the person and work of Christ. Look at 1
John 4:1-3:
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to
see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone
out into the world. 2This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God:
Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh
is from God, 3but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not
from God.”

Not only do they question the person of Jesus, his humanity and
divinity, they also question the work of Christ, his atoning death on
our behalf. This is implied in chapter 5:6:
“This is the one who came by water and blood - Jesus Christ. He did
not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit
who testifies, because the Spirit is truth.”
It seems that the break-away group were happy with baptism, but not
the need for the Cross. As a result, the role of Christ’s blood shed
in purifying us from sin, or his atoning death, is mentioned in every
chapter (1:7; 2:1-2; 3:5, 16; 4:10; 5:6-8).

And it’s not just their thinking that is flawed, but also their
practical actions towards other people and their holiness. We read in
1 John 3:10 a summary statement on this:
“This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children
of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child
of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.”
What of my argument that these false brothers are seeking to lead
others astray. 1 John 2:26 and 1 John 3:7 state:
“I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead
you astray.”
“Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray.”
So the author found it necessary to bolster the assurance of the
Christians, who had been confused or shaken by the heretical brothers
and sisters who had left. The purpose of the letter is summarized for
us 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.”

This letter repeatedly sets forth criteria which when applied to the
break-away group’s teaching, show that their claims to know God, to
have fellowship with him, and to have eternal life are wrong. But the
purpose of the letter was not to correct the secessionists - it wasn’t
written to them, but to the Christians, to reassure them that they are
holding to the truth, and not to listen to the false teachers who are
seeking to lead them astray. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing, and
the readers are the real deal - the real Christians.

Well, if that is why the letter is written, we should also say
something about the author and the readers. While 1 John lacks the
usual opening formula, the letter does tell us certain things about
the author. Firstly, he writes as an individual. Secondly, his
language and thought have a striking resemblance with the fourth
gospel. The purpose of both is about believing in Jesus and receiving
eternal life, although 1 John is more about being assured of this
truth for those who are already Christians. Thirdly, he writes as an
eyewitness of Jesus.

In terms of the audience, the letter also reveals some information
about the first readers. The readers appear to have been members of a
number of churches in fellowship with the church the apostle John was
part of. They were encountering people who had left from John’s
church and were peddling a false gospel. His readers are those whose
fellowship with John is under threat. The readers have already heard
the gospel, including its demand to love their brothers and sisters in
Christ (2:7, 24; 3:11). This message has already impacted their lives
(2:8) - they already know the truth of the gospel (2:21), that Jesus
came to deal with our sins (3:5). John has a strong relationship with
them, and writes affectionately, calling them ‘dear friends’,
‘brothers’ and ‘children.’

And so the tone of the letter is encouraging and reassuring. Maybe
you’ve had someone offer you reassuring words when you doubted your
beliefs, or you were anxious about some situation. Of course
sometimes we are not reassured - like when the person who was supposed
to be looking after your child comes up to you and says: ‘now don’t
worry, I seem to have misplaced your child, but I’m sure he will turn
up soon.’ That’s not so reassuring! The stakes are even higher here
- it is the truth of the gospel they have placed their faith in - it
is their eternal destiny which is being brought into question. But
masterfully, the apostle John shows his readers that they are the real
deal, the real Christians, and that those who are seeking to lead them
astray are the confused ones.

Well, let’s consider the opening four verses of chapter 1, as we
consider this whole letter in one hit, as it provides a helpful
summary itself. This is point two on your outline - ‘Proclaiming the
Word of life.’ Notice again what John writes in v1-2:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have
seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched
- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2The life appeared;
we have seen it & testify to it, & we proclaim to you the eternal
life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.”
We see firstly in these verses, that John’s proclamation of the Word
of life, was based on eyewitness testimony. As we’ve noted, John is
trying to reassure his readers that they are holding to the truth, and
here he seeks to achieve that by strengthening the reader’s commitment
to what they already know - that is, the message of the gospel which
they heard from the beginning. He is an eyewitness to the claims.
The phrase “from the beginning” in verse 1 is very reminiscent of the
opening to John’s gospel: ‘in the beginning was the word.’ Notice
also that in both introductions Jesus is referred to as the Word, or
here in 1 John ‘the Word of life.’ He is the Word in flesh, the Word
incarnate.

This ‘word of life’ is described as that “which we have heard.” This
expression makes it clear that an actual firsthand hearing of Christ’s
teaching occurred, and of course the apostle John spent three years
with Jesus. And what was heard is associated with what was seen with
the eyes and touched with the hands, which all imply eyewitness
authority. This is in line with verse 5, where John speaks of “the
message we have heard from him.” John is saying - I have heard Jesus
speak, I have seen Jesus, I have touched Jesus - I therefore know the
Word of life which I’m proclaiming.

In verse 2, John states clearly what is implied in verse 1, that his
proclamation as an authoritative eyewitness is because the word of
life appeared. It was embodied in the person of Jesus, or else he
could not have seen and touched this word. But the proclamation is
focussed on eternal life. This reference of ‘eternal life’ which was
with the Father, alludes to the teaching in John 1 about Jesus being
the One who ‘was with God’, which in its context means being in the
closest relationship with him. So the phrase ‘eternal life’ in verse
2 is not pointing to an impersonal quality of life that comes from God
the Father, but it refers to Jesus, the Word of life, the Son of God,
who was with the Father before he took on flesh and came to earth. He
is the one in whom eternal life is found - Jesus offers eternal life
to all who put their trust in Him, because it is His to give. Lastly
in verses 3 and 4, this proclamation is to ensure true fellowship.
Notice again:
“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may
have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and
with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4We write this to make our joy complete.”

The first part of verse 3 simply repeats what he’s been saying in
verses 1 and 2, but then he goes on to explain his reason for
proclaiming what he has seen and heard: so that they may have
fellowship with him. It’s the alternative to having fellowship with
the break-away group, the false teachers. Here in this context,
‘fellowship’ means more than just a personal relationship with John,
but also partnership with him in the work of proclaiming Jesus.
Christian fellowship here is seen as primarily a fellowship with God
the Father through Jesus Christ the Son. (cf. Jn.17:3). Those who
broke away claimed to have fellowship with the Father, but they
rejected the biblical Jesus, who took on real flesh and shed his blood
for our sin, and who was the eternal Son of God.

In verse 4, the introduction to the letter concludes, with John’s
reason for writing as he does, which seems odd as he talks of bringing
his own joy to a state of completeness, instead of their joy. It’s
because he feels responsible for his fellow believers, and his joy
can’t be complete if he fears that they’re in danger of turning from
the truth. John’s joy comes from knowing that others walk in the
truth, as we saw last week in 3 John.

This brings us to the third point on your outline: ‘Applications -
warnings and exhortations.’ How can we apply this introduction to
ourselves, which within the larger context of the letter, fires the
first arguments over who has the truth, and by inference warns against
others who cannot speak with John’s authority? . I think there are at
least three applications for ourselves, and they are still very
current concerns.

Firstly, don’t listen to those who reject apostolic authority or that
Christ is fully God and fully man. Last year we had two well-dressed
young women knock on our door. It was only a few weeks ago that I
spoke with a middle-age couple, who looked very respectable, and who
were very polite as I engaged them in conversation for 15 minutes
about eternal life and the Trinity. I’m talking about Jehovah’s
Witnesses, JWs.

For all their talk of loving the bible, they interpret the bible
according to what an elite group of leaders say in the Watchtower
magazine. They only believe the bible insomuch as it conforms to the
teaching of this higher authority. They have rejected the apostolic
gospel in favour of their own interpretation and so they twist the
bible to say what it doesn’t, or offer their own translation of the
bible which amends the bits they disagree with. Once you admit a
second authority, no matter how you try and proclaim your commitment
to the bible, the bible’s authority, written by eyewitnesses, most by
apostles, will be greatly compromised.

And don’t listen to those who reject the divinity of Christ.
Jehovah’s Witnesses (1,896 members in the Illawarra according to the
last census), the Church of the Latter Day Saints or Mormons (588),
Christian Science (22), Christadelpians (153), Scientologists (33),
etc all deny the full divinity of Jesus. These are all dangerous
groups, because they present themselves largely as Christians, they
look for common ground, rather than point out the glaring
differences. But you can’t own the name of Christ and deny who he
says he is. They are not just like us as they would have us believe!

Secondly, don’t pretend to be in full fellowship with those who
pervert the gospel. As I’ve already mentioned, the Christian sects or
cults minimise the differences, at least before you enter their
world. But Christians cannot play along with this subtle game, but
must call a ‘spade’ a ‘spade.’ We must highlight the differences, if
only to prevent them from leaving under the false impression that they
basically believe the same, or from feeling they have convinced you of
that. The difference is as great as day and night, just as it was for
the apostle John who was dealing with those who had been at his own
circle of churches - those who then tried to take people away from a
bodily Christ who was both fully God and fully man and who died for
their sin. 1 John highlights that it is not just established cults,
but any who turn from the gospel. Once a person denies the bible’s
authority, and denies Jesus, there is no true fellowship, and we don’t
help them or us by pretending otherwise. I remember having an hour
long conversation with a young JW who came to my door in Chatswood, on
a very cold winter’s day. I told him that he was part of cult, that
his beliefs denied the bible, that his group had only existed since
1876, but that these false beliefs had been held in one form or
another since the time of Christ. We must be assured of our faith,
and oppose those who distort the truth. Anything else is not truthful
and not loving.

Thirdly, we are encouraged or exhorted to love rightly: to love the
truth of the gospel which saves us, and to love other believers (3:11,
3:23, 4:7, 11-12) on the basis of the love God has shown to us in
Christ. In 1 John 3:16 we read: “This is how we know what love is:
Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our
lives for our brothers.” During World War II, Maximilian Kolbe, was
put into the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz. One day in July
1941 he was called out with the other prisoners and told that a man
had escaped from the camp. As a deterrent to the prisoners who
remained from trying to escape also, the guards had decided to kill
ten men. On this particular day a young Polish soldier was numbered
among the condemned, but as soldiers came to take him away, he fell to
the ground and cried out in anguish “Please no ... my wife .. My poor
children, I will never see them again.” The commandant was ignoring
the pleas when there was a commotion in the ranks as the unbelievable
happened. A small prisoner had broken ranks and stepped forward!
Maximilian Kolbe said, “I want to die for this young man. I am
willing to take his place.” After some indecison, he was allowed to
replace him. The young Polish soldier would live to survive Auschwitz
and live every remaining day of his life knowing that he was breathing
because Kolbe had laid down his life for him. Kolbe mirrored what God
had already done for him in sending his one and only Son, Jesus
Christ. John says that God is love (4:8, 16), and that He lavishes
His love on us (3:1), which has been demonstrated ultimately by His
Son’s death for us on the Cross (4:9), which exhausted God’s wrath
which he bore in our place (4:10). “We love because he first loved
us” (4:19).
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