We began a series on 1 John this weekend.
But how do you know you’re serving as a testimony to the Truth of Jesus Christ? How do you know you’re on the right path and your actions are giving God the glory He deserves? On the surface, you’re probably thinking this is a pretty simple question with an obvious, straightforward answer. And you may be right. But how many times have you heard someone say, “I’m a Christian, but I don’t go to church,” or “It doesn’t matter what you believe – as long as you’re sincere.”? I know I’ve heard statements like these a lot. So, in reality, this question might not be as simplistic as we may initially think.
As we discuss how we can make sure our lives properly point to the Father, imagine with me a culture where anything goes. Whatever you believe is fine, as long as you don’t stir up trouble or try to force your religious views on someone else. The cultural landscape is a melting pot of ethnicities, customs, ideas, philosophies, and religions. Do you have that society in your mind’s eye? Sounds a lot like our culture today, doesn’t it? It’s also the cultural atmosphere of the Roman world during the birth of the church.
In the midst of all of this cultural diversity and religious tolerance, false teachings are all around. Some are so blatantly false that they are easily recognized as contrary to Christ’s teachings. Others, however, start off as slight modifications of Scripture. I believe one of the most effective tactics of the Enemy is to take a piece of Truth found in Scripture and twist it just enough that it still sounds like something that lines up with the gospel, but in reality it is leading you away. If you’re not careful, it can be easy to allow that to creep into a community of believers. And that’s exactly what an early community of believers encountered. They were dealing with a troublesome theology that was a precursor to Gnosticism. Now, we don’t really know many details about Gnosticism, partially because there aren’t very many writings that have survived. Most of what we do know comes from early Christian leaders who wrote in response to this Gnosticism that threatened to tear the relatively young movement known as the church apart at its core. Scholars’ understanding of the Gnostic movement has recently increased with the discovery and translation of many Gnostic texts over the past fifty years.
One text, in particular, received some major press in early 2006. You’ve probably heard about the sensational re-discovery of the ‘secret’ gospel writing known as the Gospel of Judas. In reality, scholars have known about the Gospel of Judas for quite a while – it has only recently been fully translated from the Coptic language. Its revelations weren’t as earth-shattering as the James Cameron led hype-machine would like for you to believe. For the most part, it confirmed what scholars already thought Gnosticism had become by the time of the writing of the Gospel of Judas.
While Gnosticism itself wasn’t one monolithic movement, it did have some basic beliefs that the different Gnostic movements generally shared. Here’s what we can conclude about what the Gnostics believed:
– The gospel contained a secret, hidden message that only those with a special gnosis, or ‘knowledge’ could understand.
– In a much later, more developed form of Gnostic teaching, the only sin one could commit was that of not being informed of the hidden gnosis
– Another teaching that influenced some branches of Gnosticism was that all flesh is evil. Because of this, either Jesus was not fully God or he didn’t really become human – he just appeared to be human. Either way, the power of both the cross and the empty tomb are undermined.
People within this group of churches had a choice to make: do they continue to follow Jesus Christ because he is the God of the universe who became a human being, or do they begin to follow this new, ‘secret’ message that was contrary to the Truth they already knew because of the leadership of an old friend, John.
John had taken these churches under his wing. Maybe he had been the founding pastor of these churches. Or maybe he had been introduced to them later in life. It doesn’t really matter how long John had known this network of churches. We know that he loved these congregations like a father loves his children. When he heard good news about these churches, he shared in their joy. He longed to see them again in person, and was generally concerned for their well-being.
And it is out of that love and concern that John addresses the congregations in 1 John. Turn with me, if you will, to 1 John 1. It’s found at the back of your Bibles, just a few pages before the book of Revelation. If you don’t have your Bible, you’re welcome to use one found in the pew in front of you. 1 John 1 is found on page 1046 in that Bible.
Officially, 1 John is an anonymous letter. Unlike Paul’s letters, this one doesn’t name its author anywhere in the text. There is general agreement, however, that 1, 2, 3 John and the Gospel of John were written by the same author. Some scholars argue it was an elder in the early church named John. Very early on, however, church tradition recognized these texts as having been written by the Apostle John himself. Personally, I see no reason to go against the tradition in this case – but that’s really a matter of personal opinion. Regardless of which John wrote it, it is obvious that this person was a wholehearted follower of Jesus Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and was passionate about his spiritual children in the church.
Which leads us to today’s passage. Now, many of the New Testament letters follow a set pattern that was based on a common formula of the time. The author would introduce himself, name the recipients and then greet the recipients with some type of blessing. John doesn’t waste time with pleasantries and gets down to what needs to be addressed. Remember, his spiritual children are being deceived into going down a path that could lead to their destruction. There has already been some type of church split, and John knows that things need to be fixed quickly – or there won’t be anything left to fix. So, he quickly gets to the point: (Read 1:1-4)
Right away, he’s addressing a major concern – was Jesus Christ really human? Did God really wrap Himself in flesh and walk amongst us as a living, breathing human being, or did He merely seem like a person. John immediately says, “Yes! He was truly flesh and blood! I saw him with my own two eyes. I walked with him and talked with him. I touched him with my own hands! Yes! God really did become a man! And the encounter changed my life!”
That’s really what it all comes down to, isn’t it? Encountering God face-to-face will change your life. It’s recorded countless times in the Scriptures. In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with what appeared to be a man. When it was over, Jacob realized he had come face-to-face with God Himself. And as a result, he got a new name – Israel, a new limp, and a new outlook on life. In Isaiah 6, the prophet comes face-to-face with the Lord and leaves the encounter purified and commissioned to proclaim God’s truth to the children of Israel. And, of course, there are many examples of life-changing encounters with Jesus during his ministry on earth. The blind could see, the deaf could hear, the sick were made whole, the lame were able to walk – and that was just the beginning! In the book of Acts, Saul’s encounter with the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus not only caused him temporary blindness, but it also changed him from a persecutor to a proclaimer of the gospel. And there are countless examples today of people’s lives being changed through an encounter with God. It’s not having ‘right’ or ‘secret’ knowledge that changes you. It’s the personal encounter with God Himself that will alter the very fiber of your being. And so it is here, right at the beginning of the letter, that John explains the authority by which he speaks – the example of a changed life through an encounter with the living, breathing God Himself.
And John encourages us to pursue that same kind of encounter with God. (Read 1:5-10)
What does light do? It pushes away the darkness. When you’re in a dark room, you have no idea what’s in front of you or beside you. You have no idea what obstacles surround you. But when you turn on a light, you can see that you were about to run into a couch, or that you were about to step on a thumbtack with your bare feet. And the same is true in our walk with God. Drawing close to God allows His light to shine on us. It might not always be pleasant, because His light reveals the messy areas in our lives where sin has impacted us. But it is only by exposure to the light that we will experience healing, wholeness, and forgiveness of our sins.
Sin has become a four letter word in our culture. It is much more acceptable to say that someone has faults or someone has made a mistake. There is a rush to use mental illness as an explanation for any number of horrific actions – when in reality, those actions are the result of sin. Society is deeply rooted in sin, and most people want to live their lives with blinders on – refusing to see the light.
Remember – an encounter with God results in a changed life. As we draw closer to the Father, His light begins to shine through us. Others are going to see a difference. God’s light shining on you will purify you from your sins. And that clean life should be noticeable by others. They might not always be happy with the changes – especially if your changed life exposes sin in their own lives, but the light will still shine.
In addition to changing us, walking in the light allows us to discover what pleases God and allows us to know Him better. Christy and I will be celebrating our wedding anniversary this week. I hope that I am a better husband now than I was when we first got married. It’s not that I was necessarily bad as a husband when we got married – it’s just that I didn’t really know her enough to have any idea of what makes her tick. Not that I have it all figured out now. I know I won’t ever have her completely figured out and she won’t have me completely figured out – but that’s part of the joy of marriage, isn’t it? It’s an adventure. New and exciting things are discovered every day!
But what would happen if the day after we got married I stopped talking with her and didn’t spend any time with her? It wouldn’t be much of a marriage, would it? The same is true with your relationship with the Father. If you don’t spend time with Him you’re not going to know Him or discover new things about Him and His character. And if you don’t know Him – well, what kind of relationship is that?
Friend, God wants to know you on a very personal level. He is radically in love with you, so much so that He chose to become a man and willingly took the punishment that you and I deserved for our sins. He was pursuing you 2000 years ago when he was on the cross. He is pursuing you now, too. All you have to do is spend time with Him. Continually walk in His light – and you will be changed.
I don’t think the intention of the early Gnostics was to destroy the church in its early stages. In fact, I think they believed they were very sincere, dedicated believers to the ‘true’ doctrine of God and the Christ. Unfortunately, sincerity and good intentions alone do not make you right. The enemy used those good intentions to lead an entire group of people away from friendship with the Living God. Don’t allow yourself to be deceived by good intentions and almost-truths. Stay in the light. Walk in the light. Allow God to reveal Himself to you, to work on you, and to change you. And people will look at your life and say, “Wow! Look what God did here.”
Over the next few weeks, we will continue to look at this remarkable letter from an old friend – 1 John. We will discover the key characteristics of following Christ in an age of pluralism and tolerance. But remember – all of this is based upon the understanding that you are already walking in the light.
If you have never experienced an encounter with the living, breathing, and active God, there is no time like the present to do so. Like I said before – He is radically in love with you and is actively pursuing you. He was pursuing you before you were born. He is offering you an invitation to become part of His family and to begin an intimate relationship with Him. As we come to a time of invitation, you are invited to come forward and begin the steps today to having a right relationship with the Father. If you don’t feel comfortable walking in front of people, that’s OK. Just grab me or someone else after the service and say, “Hey – I’d like to know more about becoming a follower of Christ.” We’ll be glad to share Him with you!