Sunday, March 29, 2009
by Matt Kennedy
text: 1st John 2:12-17 (fourth sermon in an expository series on 1st John)
Being a Christian is the hardest and easiest thing you'll ever do. On the one hand it's easy because the great work, the great battle, to break the hold of sin and death has already been accomplished and won. Jesus’ righteousness, Jesus’ faithfulness, Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension—Jesus has accomplished the work of Justifying sinners and reconciling sinners to the Father. And God promises that all who repent, turn around, and commit their lives to him, trusting in his Work, and trusting in His Person will be forgiven and credited or imputed with his righteousness. So Christianity is very easy in the sense that the necessary work has already been done. What makes it difficult is that committing to Christ is not a half-way deal. The person who says: “Well I really like coming to church on Sunday morning and I agree with what this church teaches and its a comfortable place and my friends are here, its good for my kids. I definitely like that forgiveness of sins stuff, I’d like some of that, but my life is my life, my time is my time, my future is, my future, my stuff is my stuff...Jesus is my helpful advisor and comforter and takes away my sins but don’t step on my toes...” ...That's not the faith that justifies because it's not a commitment to Christ it's just a deeper commitment to self with Jesus’ name slapped on top of it. That's not discipleship, that's a hobby. With Jesus it's all or nothing. “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”(Matt 10:37) There's no halfway commitment, no in between, moderate, centrist, kind of discipleship. Commitment to Christ costs you your life.
That's what John has been pushing all along in this letter. You're either walking in the light or you're walking in the darkness. If you're walking in the light then your life will be marked by various characteristics and Micah did a great job of charting them out last week and the sum of those characteristics is this: if you're in the light then your life will be characterized by continuous warfare against sin. If you're at peace with sin then you're not in the light. “No one who is born of God” John says 3:9, “will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” He's not saying that believers do not sin. He's saying that we do not continue in sin, we come out of our sins. We gain victory over time because Christ is in us. Like any war there are ups and downs, there are losses and gains, there are defeats and victories, but for the believer who is walking in the light, the battle field continues to advance. It goes deeper and further in.
The new believer, for example, who struggles with sexual promiscuity, as he grows in Christ, will gain victory over that. But in the aftermath of that victory he'll may be compelled to to open up a new front against his habit of pornography, and after a long hard struggle he'll gain victory over that but he'll still have this tendency to look a little too long at members of the opposite sex. The guy who overcharges his clients and underpays his employees, will begin to charge fair prices and pay right wages, but he’ll struggle with fair tax reporting, and then he’ll get his taxes in order but he’ll have this tugging pull toward greed. The battle ground shifts, but the warfare continues. As battles over the most vile and pressing sins are won, deep strong roots of sin, continue to be exposed because you're walking in the light.
The Christian life is one of repentance and struggle. It's hard and it can be discouraging. Turning to our text this morning from 1 John 2 beginning in verse 12, discouragement, I think, is what John addresses in his readers. He wants to encourage them. You're walking in the light. You've committed to Christ. Your struggles testify that you're in the light. Setting aside the particular groups he addresses, look at the declarations John makes in verses 12-14. Your sins have been forgiven (12). You know him who is from the beginning (13,14). You’ve overcome the evil one (13). You've known the Father (13). You're strong (14). The word of God dwells in you (14).
John's not in doubt about the spiritual state of his readers. He’s not wondering whether they're walking in the light. He sees clearly that they are but he writes this song, this poem, whatever it is, because due to the nature of the Christian life, they may not see it about themselves. He's either addressing every age group, from small children to young men and fathers or he's addressing people in the congregation in each stage of the believer's journey, from baby Christians to those elders in the faith—either way, the thrust of the exhortation, the point of the declaration is for the entire community from the least to the greatest, weak to strong, old to young: You're in the light. The word of Christ is dwelling in you. You've overcome the the evil one. This is not the time to shrink back or give up or fade back into the darkness.
There are hints of discouragement in 1st John—not on John's part but on the part of the congregation. In the first sermon of this series we spoke about the problem of the false teachers, the Gnostics who infiltrated the church denying Jesus' full humanity, denying the incarnation, the bodily resurrection—essential doctrines given by John and the other apostles. Those teachers caused a great deal of turmoil. In fact, they succeeded in seducing some members of the church to leave. Look down at verse 19 of chapter 2: “They 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.” Some went out. Some left the church following false teaching and false teachers and the very act of going out, of turning their backs on the light reveals, says John, that they were never really in it. You've remained in the light even though it is painful. That's the mark of discipleship. Those who are not of the light cannot remain in the light. We know what John's readers were going through. People, families, friends we've known and loved have left this fellowship. Friendships have been broken and even families divided because of false teaching.
In the aftermath discouragement is natural. We're smaller now. Many have gone. Those of us who are left, are maybe not the A team. We struggle with sins and our own darkness seems sometimes to overwhelm us and so we wonder. Are we in the light? Is this what it’s like to be in the light? I don’t feel like I’m in the light? Shouldn’t we be a bigger? Shouldn’t there be less division? Shouldn’t I be struggling with fewer sins? Why do the false teachers seem so successful and prosperous while everything is so difficult for us. And into that discouragement John says: You’re sins have been forgiven, you know the Father, you’ve overcome the evil one. You're strong because the word dwells in you. Whether you're a child, a student or an old person, do not feel beaten down by sin and darkness and trouble—your struggles in fact, do nothing but show that you're in the light because the darkness is very very comfortable.
People living in the darkness often seem better off. It’s a lot easier and more peaceful to drift along with a strong current than to stand up against it. As a believer, Christ has given you his grace and power to stand up in a rushing current, a surging torrent upon which most everyone else is happy to float. As you stand there struggling and you watch the party boats float by it's very tempting to hop on. Even if you resist that temptation it's hard not to envy those people who drift by comfortably and to be discouraged at the constant rush and strength of the current itself that seems sometimes ready to bowl you over. But John says, stand. You have the power to stand because the word of Christ lives in you, you are standing because you know the father, and you must continue to stand. Don't envy those who follow the current because the current is strong for a reason. It’s headed somewhere you do not want to go.
Friends, John says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”(15) You can misread that passage as a condemnation of the created order but when John writes about “the world” he's not referring to everything in the world, he’s pointing specifically, to that current of sin and rebellion that has broken over the good world that God has created and in which most people in the world are content to drift. Verse 16 makes that clear.
“For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.” The world, in John’s vocabulary, is everything in created realm that does not originate with the father. Every thing that does not originate with the Father is part of the rebellion against him. It’s not “desire”, we all have desires for food, love, sleep, sex, those are all good, but the “cravings” of our sinful nature, the compulsion to use these good desires outside the channels or boundaries that God has set for them. It's not the eyes. We all have eyes to behold beauty and goodness and wonder in God’s creation. But with these eyes we can also go beyond wonder and awe and praise to lust. we can see beauty and think only of how we can make it ours. We can consider our blessings God has given us, home, car, church building, clothes, success, and be grateful and joyful or we can look at this stuff and say, look at what my hands have accomplished. Having stuff is not of the world, boasting about the stuff you have is. The craving of sinful flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of possession, these are the things John names “the world”
And (17) “The world and its desires” John says, “pass away.” They will end. The current is sweeping the world to its end, to the pit. And those who comfortably follow the current now will be swept along with it so do not love the world.
“but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” Children, young people, and fathers and mothers who stand up in the current do the will of God. The depth and difficulty of your struggle does nothing but reveal that you do not love the world, that you know the father, that your sins are forgiven, and that by the word of Christ dwelling in you, you have overcome the evil one and you will live forever.