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TEXT: I John 4:13-16
SUBJECT: I John #13: The Promise Keeper
What's the Bible about?
There are many good ways of answering that, but I don't think any is better than this one: God keeps His promises! This is what the Bible is about, from Genesis 3 to Revelation 22 (and even Genesis 1-2 hint at it). Does God want us to know that He is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable? Sure He does. Does He want us to know that God is.Spirit, Light, Love, and a Consuming Fire? Of course. But what He mostly wants us to know-and believe!-about Him is that He is faithful, that His promises always come true, and His word never-
Falls to the ground.
I have no idea how many promises God makes in the Bible, but I do know His Central Promise, the pledge that matters most. It is found all over the Bible, and is not always worded in exactly the same way, but here's one version of it, Exodus 29:45-
I will dwell among the children of Israel and be their God.
'I will live with my people and they will live with me'. This is the gist of the Lord's most important promise, the promise that all the others feed into and flow out of. This is what the Bible is about. And this is where our deepest comfort lies, even when we get bad news from the doctor or stand over the grave of the person we never thought we'd have to live without. The Lord is with us and we are with Him. That's the Promise--and it will be kept.
The only problem with the Promise is that it doesn't have my name or yours written on it. That our Father in Heaven will not forsake His family is wonderful!...but you a member of His family? Pope Francis, Rob Bell, and many others say that everyone is included in the family, and that the Lord has no more forsaken Judas Iscariot than He has the Apostle Paul. That every single person is predestined for Heaven, and-however long it takes us to get there-every single person will finally make it. This is what the Pope said in an offhand remark a few weeks ago; it's what Rob Bell's book is about, and many others believe, on both the popular and more scholarly levels.
This hope, however, cannot be squared with the plain words of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was He-not a red faced Bible thumper-who said-
Depart from me, you workers of iniquity, I never knew you.
The Promise is beyond wonderful. If I could know it is for me, that, however unworthy, I have a part in it, I'd be mad with joy! I only I could know, know for sure; if only my 'head knowledge' would move down eighteen inches into my heart! If only. This is how I feel, and maybe you do too. Except for Salvation itself, I don't think there can be a blessing greater than the Assurance of Salvation.
This is what I John is all about. This is why John keeps hammering away on the true doctrine of Christ, consistent obedience, and deep brotherly love. He's not a Legalist, saying-or suggesting-that we attract the love of God by loving others, or that God will put us in His family if only we're sufficiently obedient! Doctrine, obedience, and brotherly love are not the Cause of our Salvation, but its Fruit. We don't do these things (however badly) in order to belong to God, but because we belong to Him!
This is what the Epistle is all about, and no part of it more so than today's New Testament Lesson, I John 4:13-16.
The first thing I noticed in reading the passage is its tone. In the previous paragraph, John sounds like a drill sergeant, giving orders and making terrible threats. But here, what he before commanded, he now assumes. John is no fool; he knows the people he's writing to have the same problems we do. Some of them are lazy, some love money more than they ought to, look at women in the wrong way, hold grudges, and all the rest.
But John also knows that these very imperfect disciples have the Holy Spirit. He is certain that they abide in God and He in them because-
He has given us of His Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the common possession of all God's people. This was the staggering promise of the New Covenant, and, on the Day of Pentecost, God made good on it! Because he is an Apostle, the Spirit did some things in and with John that He doesn't do in us. But, if the Apostles enjoyed special workings of the Holy Spirit, they didn't have the Spirit any more than we do. Or, to turn it around, we have as much of the Holy Spirit as they did! How much is of Him? All of Him!
When the Spirit comes to indwell us, He doesn't put one foot in the door, leaving the other one on the porch. Paul makes this crystal clear, in Romans 8, where he says-
If any man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His!
We either have the Holy Spirit or we don't. Those who do belong to God, those who don't do not belong to God. This is simple enough.
What's not so simple is knowing that we have the Holy Spirit. Do I? Do you? John says nothing about you and me, in particular, but he does say something about the people who seem quite a bit like us, people who profess faith in Christ, but don't always live up to their profession.
Looking at these people with the eyes of a loving, firm, and wise old man, John says they do have the Spirit, and his belief is not a shaky one-
He has given us of His Spirit.
How does John know this? Well, as an Apostle, he definitely had a special insight into things. He knew the Lord, perhaps, better than any other man.
And, in my opinion, when the Lord breathed on John and the others, they received a special gift of knowledge and utterance. John, therefore, had a special insight into matters spiritual.
But I don't think he's using it here. His assumption is based on evidence that any mature believer can have-and should have! He knows his people have received of the Spirit because the invisible work of the Holy Spirit was made visible in their lives.
John was not the Judge of the Living and the Dead. He was only a fruit inspector. And when he looked at the Spirit's fruit in their lives, he saw it was good, and from that, he knew-
They abided in God and God in them.
What fruit did John seen in their lives? And-more to the point-what fruit should we be looking for in our own? If you go to Galatians 5, you'll find nine fruits of the Spirit. The list is not complete, and Paul didn't mean it to be. After all-
Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of Lights in whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
Or, as Peter said, by the Spirit-
We have received all things that pertain to life and godliness.
John, therefore, is not attempting a complete list of everything the Holy Spirit inspires in the Christian life. He's an old man and won't live long enough to make that list. And, besides the world is not big enough to contain all the books!
How many fruits does he name? Others have counted them differently, but to my reading, John names four visible marks that God lives in us and we in Him. Here they are:
FAITH IN THE TRUE CHRIST
Number one: Faith in the true Christ, v.14-
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.
The we referred to does not include everyone to whom John is writing. The fact is, not everyone lived with Christ before His crucifixion or saw Him alive afterwards. This was an honor unique to the Apostles and a few others, Mary Magdalene, for example, or Cleopas and his friends.
But, if John is not saying, 'I know you belong to God because, like me, you were eyewitnesses of His majesty', what is he saying? Simply this: 'I know you belong to God because you have believed our testimony!'
You abide in God and God abides in you only if you believe in Christ. And note carefully, not any and every Christ, a Christ you dreamed up for yourself, but a particular Christ, I mean the Real Christ! Whom John briefly describes in two ways.
He is the One Sent. This means, Jesus is the Messiah who was to come into the world. In One Magnificent Person, He would combine the three Offices of Prophet, Priest and King. As our Prophet, He would have the Final Word on all things; as our King, He would Rule over us and protect us from our enemies, inside, and out; as our Priest, He would both offer the Final, sin-removing Sacrifice and also be that Sacrifice!
He is the Son of the Father. The term, Son of God has to be nuanced, not meaning precisely the same thing every time it comes up in the Scripture, but here it certainly means Jesus is what the heretics then and now say He isn't. Jesus is Divine, not 'godlike', but God, not inferior to the Father in any way, but-
The same in essence, equal in power and glory.
We know this is what John means by the Son because, in part, this is how his people, the Jews, took it. When Jesus said, I and the Father are one, what did the people do? They picked up stones to kill Him. Why? John tells us in his Gospel, 5:18, He was-
Making Himself equal to God!
We also, more definitely, know this is what he means because no Jew (at that time) would bow down to any creature; they'd rather die that do this (many had a few generations before), but when John did just this.for Jesus. Not because he thought Jesus was such a wonderful man, but because he thought-and knew-that Jesus is God!
John wasn't the only one to believe this; so did the people he was writing to in Asia Minor. When he saw their faith in the True Christ, he knew they-
Abided in God and He in them.
Assurance is not found in explosions of ecstasy, lifting you to multiple utopias of pleasure! It starts with believing in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
A MEASURE OF COURAGE
The second assuring fruit John sees in the lives of his people is, v. 15, a measure of courage-
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.
The word to underline here is confesses-not 'believes'. You believe with your heart-Paul says-but confessing? That's done with your mouth! John is sure these dear people belong to God because, they're not ashamed of Christ!
Is every one of them a Street Preacher? Do they all have the knack for starting up Gospel conversations in the Laundromat? I don't think so. But I do think that-in light of our Lord's own words, everyone who belongs to Him, will, to some degree or other, speak up for Christ! I can find no other meaning in, for example, Mark 8:38-
Whoever, therefore, shall be ashamed of me and my words in this sinful and adulterous generation, of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in glory with His holy angels.
Not everyone is called to be an Evangelist, to talk to everyone he sits next to in an airliner, he meets on the bus, or walks the dog with, but.Every disciple of Christ is required by God-and everyone God is in-will to some degree or other-
Sanctify the Lord God in his heart and be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within him.
Why does belonging to God give even scaredy cats (like me) a measure of courage? For one thing, it gets me thinking about Christ and loving Him, and treasuring Him, and wondering how He could love the sinner I am. And.out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks! If all you care about is Hating on Donald Trump, you're going to bring it up every chance you get! If all you care about is your Savior's Dying Love, you're going to bring that up as often as possible!
John knew they belonged to God because, God's Spirit had given them a measure of courage. The Redeemed of the Lord say so!
KNOWING GOD'S LOVE
The third proof they belong to God is their knowledge of and belief in God's love for them, v16a-
And we have known and believed the love that God has for us.
If you've been a Christian for any time at all, you've met people who struggle mightily with the Love of God. Some, looking at the mess the world is in, wonder if God is love at all.
Most, however, have no problem believing in God's Love, in general; what eats them up alive is God's love for themselves! Though every sort of believer is subject to this, Calvinists seemed almost, well--predestined to it!
What do you say to this? How do you get the general love of God into your own heart? Universalism is one way, but it's the wrong way! Not everyone is loved in the same way. What you do is meditate on the Cross and keep at it until God gives you the knowledge and certainty that the One who bled there for the sins of the world, bled for your sins, too. We sing with hymn in faith and hope-
Jesus, keep me near the cross.
And there's the thing: He answers the song! I have not seen the Book of Life and read my name in it (If only!). But the reason I haven't is because God has seen fit to assure me of my salvation in a better way! At the Cross, where, when we were-
Yet without strength, in due time, Christ died for us!
This is the eyewitness testimony of John and the others, and the witness is credible. But the testimony itself does not clinch the deal! The Holy Spirit does that, as He, personally and powerfully-
Bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God!
God never whispered in my ear, 'Mike, I love you'. And thank God He didn't! For I might have missed what He said, might have misunderstood it or misinterpreted it. But there's no missing the Cross! And the Infinite and Eternal Love of God that stands behind it!
For several years, the young Charles Spurgeon struggled mightily with Assurance. Until, driven by a snowstorm into a Methodist Chapel, whose pastor couldn't get there, he heard a barely literate layman read Isaiah 45:22, and say-
Christ didn't say, 'Look unto yourself'; He said 'Look unto Me' .
On hearing this otherwise very poor excuse for a sermon, the Holy Spirit enabled Charlie to Look and Live!
Maybe someone here is in the same boat with Spurgeon. You're looking at yourself, your obedience, your love, you faith, your feelings, your sins, your hypocrisy, and all the rest. But there's no Assurance in these things, but only in Christ, and not Christ the Judge, but Christ the One who was judged.for your salvation!
I'm sure some of John's people were neurotics, worry-warts, hand-wringers. But, for all their doubts and fears and feelings, he knew they knew-at bottom-
The love of God was shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to them!
Finally, John knows the brethren are brethren because he saw their brotherly love, v.16b-
God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him.
Since we've covered this several times already in our study of I John, I'll be brief. The love of God for us makes us love others. His love for us is perfect; ours for others, never is. But for all our inconsistencies, we love each other. And, not just because we try so hard (though we ought to do that), but because whoever is forgiven much loves much! And if anything true can be said about us, it is this: If we are forgiven at all, we are forgiven much! Whether we grew up as nice Pharisees in Church, too scared to really do anything wrong, or as Publicans outside the Church, crazy for sin!
The loved love. By seeing how they loved one another, John knew very well that they were loved by God, redeemed by Christ, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Not everyone who has assurance ought to. There is no such thing as a Carnal Christian, a nominal Christian, a disciple who isn't a disciple. To be loved by God is to have His Spirit within, and the Spirit who is in us, has a way of making His presence known-not by raptures of joy, so much, as by lives of faith, love, and obedience.
Have I described you? Are you a consistently disobedient and unloving person, with a sure hope of Heaven because of something you did, or that happened to you years ago?
I have no interest in coming down on you, judging you, saying I'm better than you. What I say to you is what I say to myself every day (when I'm right)-
Come to Christ, keep on coming to Him, believe in His holiness and love until you become a holy and loving disciple. The journey won't be quick or easy, but it will get you where you want to go, Psalm 37:37-
Mark the blameless man,
And observe the upright,
For the end of that man
And to you who really do believe in Christ and walk in love, however poorly, take heart! You don't have to be perfect to dwell in God! You can make all manner of mistakes and commit every kind of sin and still, God will dwell in you. For the Savior of Sinners doesn't stop saving us when we're saved. He keeps on saving us, every day all day till the Day we meet Him in the air!
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
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