This sermon is number 5 in a series of 23
1, 2 and 3 John - Part 5
by David Legge | Copyright © 2005 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
We're turning to 1 John again and chapter 2, and our title this evening - as we will be studying, in the will of the Lord, if we get through it, verses 3 to 11 - the title being 'Practical Christianity'. We begin our reading at verse 3:
"And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes".
A book that I have recommended to you on several occasions is Roy Hession's classic 'The Calvary Road', and I again commend it to you - buy it and be encouraged and instructed from it. In chapter 3 of his book under the title 'The Way of Fellowship', he makes some comments which are very helpful regarding the understanding of the truths that we're looking at this evening. He says this: 'When man first fell in the Garden of Eden, and chose to make himself rather than God the centre of his life, the effect was not only man out of fellowship with God, but also out of fellowship with his fellow man. The story of man's first quarrel with God in Genesis chapter 3 is closely followed in the fourth chapter by the story of man's first quarrel with his fellow man - Cain's murder of Abel. We live in a world where man does not just want his own way against God's way, but his own way against his fellow man's way - hence the tensions, barriers, suspicions, misunderstandings, clashes and conflicts that we experience as human beings'.
Now 1 John teaches us that when, as we have learned in chapter 1, our quarrel with God - sin - is put right, and through the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the confession of our sins, He is faithful and just because of the atonement made at Calvary to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness - when that happens, and when we intend to obey God's commands, we then as a result will have fellowship with one another as human beings. First John teaches us, and we'll see tonight, that the depth and reality of man's fellowship with God can be tested on two counts. One: his obedience to God's command; and two: his fellowship with his fellow man. The depth of your real spiritual experience can be tested on those two grounds: whether you're obeying God's word, and whether you're living in peace and harmony and love with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now we know already, and we've learnt in past weeks, that this little epistle of 1 John is an epistle about assurance. Now please don't misunderstand what I'm saying tonight, I will not be expounding the word of God to say that you have to obey God's commands to be saved, or you have to love your brethren to be saved - that is not what this book is teaching. It's not teaching how you can be saved, but it's rather teaching how you can know that you're saved, what the signs of assurance are. You cannot get saved by obeying God's command or loving your brethren, but obeying God's commands and loving the brethren are signs that we are saved, and can be used as tests to see whether or not we are converted.
Now I wonder am I speaking to someone here tonight? You have had the age-old problem of many a child of God, you have a lack of assurance, you're troubled about your salvation. Maybe at one time you were certain that you were saved, and right at the beginning of your pilgrimage you had a real joy, satisfaction, and an assurance that you were one of God's children - but now things are different, for whatever reason. You're wondering tonight: 'How can I know if I'm truly saved?'. That's exactly the question that John is answering in this particular first epistle: how do we know that we know God? How do we know that we are in fellowship with Him?
We have learned already in chapter 1 verse 5 through to chapter 2 verse 2 that the means of maintaining this fellowship with God is through the precious blood of Christ, through confession and repentance from our sins, and trusting in what Christ has done and that alone. But now we're looking at verses 3 to 11 of chapter 2, which outlines for us the signs of true fellowship with God. How do we know that we have taken this step effectually? What are the tests to really know that we are in touch with God, that we are having fellowship with God?
If you lack assurance this evening, here are the two tests that we'll be looking at this evening. Now in chapter 1, in the first four verses or so, we've already looked at the doctrinal test of whether we are true Christians. That was the doctrine of what authentic Christianity really was, and we looked at it under that title on that particular week - we have to believe what is right concerning the Son of God, we have to believe in the historical and the biblical Christ. But here we will find this week that we're looking at the moral test and the social test of practical Christianity. Our Christianity is only authentic Christianity when it is practical Christianity in both a moral and a social sense.
So we'll look first of all at the moral test, what is that? It's found in verses 3 to 6, it is obedience to the Word. Now the statement is found in verse 4, verse 6 and verse 9: 'He that saith' - it's a bit like the three statements that we found in chapter 1, 'If we say', 'If we say', 'If we say'. Now he uses another three in chapter 2: 'He that saith', 'He that saith', 'He that saith'. Now, before I tell you what they're saying, it is interesting to note that it is the easiest thing in the world to make a profession. It's the easiest thing to utter words out of your mouth, and say something, and even think that you mean it. Incidentally, as we look at verse 4, what they are saying, those who John is quoting, is: 'I know Him', 'We know Him'. Then in verse 6 what they're saying is: 'I abide in Him'. Then in verse 9 they say that they are 'in the light'. The frightening thing for us should be tonight that we can say those three things, and of course we do, all of us who take the name of Christ would say 'I know Him. I abide in Him. I'm walking in the light with Him' - but, almost reminiscent of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 7:22 in the Sermon on the Mount, John is saying that it doesn't matter how vehemently we cry 'Lord, Lord', it doesn't even matter what we do in the name of Christ or say, what matters is whether we keep His commandments.
So in verse 3 of chapter 2 he says: 'Hereby we do know that we know him', and this is the basis for all he will say up to verse 11, 'if we keep his commandments'. Now he deals with the first 'He that saith' in verse 4: 'He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him'. To say that we have fellowship with God, we know the Lord Jesus Christ, and not to keep His commands, is to be a liar - and John says the truth is not in you. He doesn't miss and hit the wall, this Son of Thunder, even with grace and conversion!
We have to remember the context of what John was writing to, you remember these Docetists that I talked to you about in recent weeks. They were the forerunners of the later Gnostics, and although they hadn't been formed into a religious group as such, their teachings were in embryo even in the early church, and contaminating it. They claimed that they were special elect beings who had a superior knowledge of God - and this word 'knowledge' was very intrinsic to their vocabulary. They knew God in a way that the ordinary run-of-the-mill Christian didn't. For that reason, John uses the word 'gnosko', from which we get 'Gnostic', which is the Greek word for 'knowledge', 25 times in the first epistle of John. He uses another similar word, 'hoida', 15 times. What he's wanting to bring to the Christian's attention in Ephesus is that this is the true knowledge of God. The interesting thing is that these Gnostics and Docetists, they had a great intrigue with this special, superior, charismatic knowledge of God - but they had no interest in keeping God's commandments. They were living the lives of reprobates.
So John comes in and he says: 'No, this is how you know Him. Those who know Him', verse 5, 'keep His word'. In spite of what they claim, they keep His word - verse 5: 'But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him'. Now this is not sinless perfection, and a lot of charismatics often latch on to this verse to claim that, and blatantly ignore what we've already learned in chapter 1 verse 8 and verse 10, that if we say that we have no sin or have not sinned, we make God a liar, we deceive ourselves, and the truth and His word is not in us. What John's talking about here is that there should be in the Christian a habitual desire to please the Lord. It doesn't mean you please Him all of the time, it doesn't mean you're perfect, it doesn't mean that you never sin - in fact, chapter 1 teaches us that at times we will sin, but even though we fail our Lord on occasions there is a deep desire which is wrought by the Spirit in our heart to please the Lord.
Do you have that this evening? Do you keep His word? This is one of the ways we can know that we are a child of God. So John's teaching us that knowing God doesn't come through some kind of mystical experience while we fast and pray and flagellate ourselves, or lock ourselves up in a monastery somewhere. It doesn't come through superior intellectual knowledge, or a charismatic revelation, but it comes by bare, naked, raw obedience. Here's how we know Him and have fellowship with Him: if we keep His commandments, if we keep His word. If it wasn't found in the Scriptures, it would be a new revelation to many in Christianity in the age in which we live! We're all looking for quick fixes, we're all looking for new fads and new ways of knowing a little bit more of God - but John says that the way we can know God, the way that the love of God is perfected in us, is through obedience. Would you love, tonight, for God's love to be perfected in you?
Now it's not referring, I don't believe, to the love that we have for God, I believe it's referring to His 'agape' is the word, 'love' in us, for us, but which is displayed outwardly. It comes down from heaven and it channels in us and through us to those around, and that word 'agape' is used 18 times in this particular epistle, more than in any other book in the whole of the New Testament. The whole import of what John is saying here is that the whole goal and aim of God's love, sending Christ to the cross to die, to be buried, to rise again, is with one sole goal: that you would be an obedient child of God, that you would do His will, that you would obey His commandment, that His word would be in your heart. Now this phrase 'His word', 'keep His word', is not just keeping His commandments, because His commandments are scattered right throughout Scripture in intermittent places. But 'His word' has a deeper sense of actually 'God's will'. If you are an authentic Christian, and you want to test the authenticity of your Christianity, it will be tested through this moral test: that you keep His word. In other words, you walk in His will. You fail from time to time, I know, but generally speaking you have a great desire in your heart to please the Lord.
Is that not what Romans 8 verse 28 teaches us? We quote it in a different context, but listen to how it is found in the context of Romans 8 as Paul teaches it: 'We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose' - what is His purpose? - 'For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren'. God desires that we should do His will, and the reason why He has lavished His love upon us away in eternity past when He chose us in Christ, the moment and hour that He saved us, and then as He sanctified us, and as He's progressively bringing us closer to Himself, is that we should manifest the very life of Christ in our lives! 'I am crucified with Christ', Paul says in Galatians, 'It is not I that live any more, but Christ that lives through me. The life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me'. Keep His word, that's how you'll know that you know Him, keep His will.
Then secondly, we find in verse 6, not only have you to keep His word but you have to walk His walk. The second 'He that saith': 'He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also' - what sobering words - 'to walk, even as he walked'. Now, although the Saviour is first and foremost our Saviour, He is also our example. In John 13 verse 15 He said it Himself: 'For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you'. We often don't think of the Lord Jesus in this light, that His life as set forth in the Gospels - Matthew to John - is to be our life's pattern, it is to be our guide as to how we ought to live. Now don't misunderstand me: it's not that we can do what Christ did, there is an extent to which that is true, and we shall do greater things than He, but that does not mean that we'll be able to perform the mighty miracles at times that He displayed - not do what He did, but rather walk as He walked, and that is a more profound thing. Because even those who say 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Thy name, did we not cast out demons in Thy name, did we not do many mighty miracles in Thy name' - they have displayed charismatic powers, but they do not walk as He walked. Indeed, Martin Luther said: 'It is not Christ walking on the sea, but His ordinary walk that we are called on here to imitate'.
Now I know that there's a great debate going on, and there always has been in Christianity, about whether we are a people who live by rules or by principles, or whether it's just grace, it's a bit of a free for all. Each generation debates about what the rules of Christianity. Well, I'm going to give you the one sole rule by which all other rules can be measured. It's simply this, verse 6: we are to walk as He walked. Does that not settle a whole lot of disputes? Of course, we can only walk as He walked if we are walking, living through His Spirit, because the only life that pleases God is the life of Christ, and we are to die to ourselves - for Christ has put us to death on Calvary, and we are to lie low and allow Christ to live through us. It's only then, when we walk as He walked, John says in 1 John and chapter 2 verse 6, that we will abide in Him.
Is that not what he taught in that famous passage of Scripture - I believe Eddie Ray was preaching on it in my absence two weeks ago - chapter 15 and verse 10, Jesus said: 'If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love'. You only abide when you keep His word, and when you walk as He walked. That is the moral test: it is obedience to His word, it is walking as He walked in a moral sense - are you there, my friend? There's so much nonsense taught in contemporary Christianity today about what is legitimate. Some are saying: 'I don't need to live like this, as long as I love the Saviour, that's all that matters'. Many evangelicals are coming to the conclusion that doctrine is not important, all that matters is that your life and your teaching and conduct is ruled by love - but we see here that that is not the case. Yes, love is so important, and if we don't have love we have nothing - but we have to keep His word, and we have to walk as He walked. If we don't, we ought to doubt the authenticity of our Christian experience, whatever it may be. Now that's serious stuff - you apply that to your heart tonight.
Then secondly there is the social test. The moral test was obedience to the word, but the social test is love to your brother and sister in Christ. We find that in verses 7 to 11, and here we have the specific commands that we are to obey. There's a great debate: do we obey the ten commandments? Do we obey the Pentateuch, Genesis to Deuteronomy? Do we obey the Levitical laws, and the rituals and ceremonies of the Old Testament? What do we obey? Is it just Christ's law we obey? Or is it just the epistles, does the Sermon on the Mount not apply today? All this is discussed. But the Lord is saying through John, as He said Himself, that there is one commandment that we ought to obey: Love. He even addresses them in chapter 2 and verse 7, the Authorised says 'brethren', the word is really 'beloved', 'agapetoi' (sp?) - and it's used six times within this book. John is reinforcing again that what is necessary is that we love one another. John says: 'This is not a new commandment, but it's an old commandment which you've had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning'.
Now what is 'the beginning'? Well, of course, in his gospel chapter 1 and verse 1 it was creation. The Word was there in the beginning. In this epistle in chapter 1 and verse 1, we find that 'the beginning' speaks of when Christ was incarnated in the flesh, and lived among men, and they heard what He said, and they delivered it to the church. But of course this command to love one another is not a new command, Jesus was not the first to speak these words, it is given in the Old Testament law in the book of Leviticus 19:18 that we are to love our neighbour. But John, I believe, when he talks about 'the beginning', is speaking in the context of where he spoke in chapter 1 and verse 1 of our Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew comments on it and gives us an understanding when he tells us that Christ actually claimed, Matthew chapter 22, that the law, the prophets, and all of the Old Testament was summed up in Himself and in the command to love your neighbour and to love your God. Indeed, he bears this out if you look at chapter 4 and verse 21: 'And this commandment have we from him', from Christ. This is this commandment at the beginning, when Christ came into the world and taught that he who loveth God, loves his brother also. Indeed, in John 15:21, the Lord Jesus said: 'A new commandment I give unto you: this is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you'.
Now why is John labouring this point? Well, simply because these Docetists, these false teachers were parading their new knowledge as a new revelation. John is coming along, and he's saying: 'What I've to teach, it isn't new. What I've to teach is the authentic teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, when He summed up everything that the law and the prophets taught, and He said 'Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as yourself'' - as Jude put it, it was the faith once delivered unto the saints. I'm telling you today, in this neo-evangelical, charismatic age: you need to be careful of anyone who comes along and says, 'I've something new to tell you that is not found in the scripture'. We don't need anything new in that sense, because we have the old commandment from the beginning. But what John goes on to say in verse 8 is that this old commandment is ever new, and it is a new commandment, and it is true in Christ and in you, and it is that same commandment to love one another.
Now how is it new? Is this a contradiction? Well, he said, of course, himself in John's gospel that it was a new commandment. I believe what he's talking about is that this is a commandment in the Old Testament to love your neighbour, but the Lord Jesus Christ, as He comes upon the scene, He brings a new characteristic to this love and to this command: for in Christ it is the first time that that agape love of God has been perfectly and completely exemplified. That's why he says in verse 8: 'that thing is true in him' - this love is perfected in the personification of Christ as the divine Son. Then he goes on to say that this is a new commandment, never been seen before as it has now in Christ, but in the very present tense John says that this love is a new commandment seen in you, verse 8. In other words, this love that was in Christ is meant to be true in believers in John's day and in our day. This is the miracle of conversion, these Ephesians, other Christians in the early church, who in heathendom were ruled by passion and hatred and pride, by the grace of God have now been transformed and are displaying in their lives a new commandment that has never been seen in this light before - they're loving one another, when once they were hating each other.
That's what he means when he says at the end of verse 8, that in this the darkness, literally the tense is 'is passing away'. Through these conversions of pagans the darkness, the natural darkness that we've all been born into, enmity with God and our fellow men, is passing away. Now it isn't completely passed yet, but when people are converted and show love toward one another, that's what he says in verse 8: 'the true light shineth' - or the tense is, 'is already shining'. Do you have that love? Is there something that marks you out as a Christian, and it is your love for brethren and sisters in Christ and other people in this world? That is the test - it's not just all about obeying God's commands very coldly and in a matter of fact way, but it's about having a love that is like the love of Jesus, never to fail or fade.
Maybe you're saying tonight: 'David, what is that true love?'. Well, John gives us its definition in verses 9 to 11, and he contrasts between two loves: the true love and the false. In verse 9, the third 'He that saith', he says: 'He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now'. In other words, it doesn't matter, talk is cheap: if you profess with your mouth to know Christ and walk in the light, yet you hate your brother, that is a sure sign that you are in darkness until now. Please don't miss the import of such a statement. That expression 'in darkness until now', it's not talking about just that sin has come like a cloud between you and God, and your fellowship has been interrupted for a moment or two. It doesn't even mean that you've backslidden to some extent. Literally that statement 'in darkness until now' means that the man continues to be what he has always been - unregenerate! Unconverted! Without the life of God in his being, cut off from God! That's what it means. Hatred is a sign and characteristic of our natural darkness.
Then, to show us what this true love is in contrast to the false, in verse 10 he tells us: 'He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him'. The one who truly loves his brother with authentic love, the true Christian, abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. Now that could mean two things, 'no cause for stumbling in him'. It could mean that he doesn't stumble himself, and I believe that that is the true sense of the verse. In other words, listen to me: if you believe the doctrinal truth about who Christ is, and you've passed the test and you've believed the true gospel, and you have trusted Christ's blood, confessed your sins, He has cleansed you; and you have passed the moral test, you're being obedient to God's word and, though you fail Him from time to time, there is within your heart an habitual desire to please the Lord; and you've passed the social test, you're loving your brother even though he offends you from time to time - I'm telling you, someone like that, there's less chance of them stumbling into sin and backsliding than another brother who fails all those tests.
The second meaning of 'there is no cause of stumbling in him' could be that he will not be the cause of stumbling to others. In other words, if you're teaching the right truths about Christ you're not going to lead somebody astray. If you're living by God's commandments yourself, you're not going to be a bad example to another. If you're loving your brethren in all circumstances, no matter who they are and how unlikeable they may be at times, you're going to win people for Christ, you're not going to be a stumbling block to others. This has weighed heavy on my heart today as I've been studying God's word - do you know why? Because I believe, from my own personal experience mingling among people and talking to unconverted folk, that one of the greatest hindrances to people coming to Christ in this day and in every day is those who claim to be Christians yet don't live up to the name. Am I talking to you tonight? Now be warned this evening: if you take the name of Christ and hate your brother, you're in darkness! You're not saved! Indeed, verse 11 says this: 'You know not whither you go or come', as it were, 'because darkness has blinded your eyes'. Hating another, what it leads to is more and more darkness. Whilst there are signs given in this book of how we can be assured that we are authentic Christians, this is a categorical statement that if we hate our brother we can know that we are not a child of God.
So we have looked at these two tests of our authentic Christianity, and they are the practical ones of Christianity. The moral test: obedience to the word, both keeping His word and walking His walk. Secondly the social test: loving your brother. Now can I sum all this up by saying this, very simply, that these two tests can be concluded in one word: it is simply the word 'Christlikeness'. The Lord Jesus Christ claimed that that the law and the prophets were summed up in Him. We see in His life love like we've never seen in any character in all of history and even in the Bible. We see in the Lord Jesus God's law and God's agape love in perfect harmony together, unlike the claims of evangelicals today who say that to have law is legalism, and legalists often say that to have love is licence - whereas in Christ we see these two gelled together in perfect harmony. But here is the challenge to us tonight: how ought we to live as practical Christians? We ought to walk as He walked! What is it? It is Christlikeness! Now, I know you can only live it by the Spirit, you can only live it when you lie low, you die to yourself and reckon yourself dead with Christ on the cross, and alive unto God through the new nature. I know all that, but my question is: are you living it? Christlikeness: how Christlike are you? Or are you, God forbid, and I'm sure there's one or more in the meeting tonight, a stumbling block to others coming to Christ, or to your brother or sister advancing and growing in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ?
How did the Saviour walk, and how ought we to walk? He walked in faith. The Bible says the Son can do nothing of Himself. Now we're entering into a very mysterious and holy piece of Scriptural ground, where in the humanity of Christ, the Lord Jesus did not lose any of His divine attributes, but voluntarily He chose not to use them. He chose to live as a man among men, He chose to depend as a man completely on His Heavenly Father and not what He could do. Here we see Him walking in faith, He submitted Himself to His Father's will, even to the extent of being obedient unto death - Philippians 2 says 'even the death of the cross', and you know what that meant! Do you walk by faith? Do you walk in total dependence upon your Heavenly Father? He walked in the word, He never doubted for one moment its authority, and He never accepted the authority of another over it. Even when the devil himself in Matthew 4 came and tempted Him, doubting God's word, He said three times 'It is written, it is written, it is written'. His answer to every challenge was: 'I do always the things that please Him'. He said to His disciples, and He says to us tonight: 'Walk as I walk. If you love me, keep my commandments'.
He walked in faith, He walked in the word, He walked in prayer. Can you see Him getting up in the dead of night and walking through the household and out into the street, and up the mountain into a solitary place and praying all night long before His Father? Can you see Him getting up a great while before day, and going into the wilderness and praying to God? Do you see Him withdrawing Himself from the crowd? There were people to heal, disciples to teach, but He needed to draw strength from His Heavenly Father. Do you walk in prayer?
These are the signs of a Christian. He walked in good works. Oh, you'll not get saved by good works - but a sure sign that you are saved is that, like Him, you will go about doing good, you will please not yourself, and you will lay down your life for the brethren and for those around you in the world who are dying without hope. Do you know what this epistle teaches us? That the purpose of the church in John's day and in ours, and the purpose of the individual Christian is to exhibit the real presence of Christ in this world. That is done by obedience and by love.
Now I hate these wee bangles with 'WWJD' on them, but I like the message: 'What would Jesus do?'. That is a profound message. You can dispensationalise it all you like, but it doesn't avoid the fact that in John's dispensation, which is ours, he teaches that we ought to walk even as He walked. The message of God's salvation is not just about chapter 1, it's not just about the blood that was shed and the cleansing that's available through confession, but it's about this fact: that God is so pleased with His own Son that He wants a whole company of people walking about heaven like Him one day.
How like Him are you now? A sculptor once fashioned a lion out of a block of granite, and he was asked how he accomplished such a wonderful masterpiece. He replied: 'Oh, it was easy, all I did was to chip away everything that didn't look like a lion'. Are you chipping away the things in your life that are not Christlike? Are you being conformed more and more, by the Spirit's help I agree, but are you getting there, progressing to be more like Christ? If that's the reason you've been saved, that's the reason the church exists, what kind of picture of Christ do you give to other people?
'If of Jesus Christ their only view,
May be what they see of Him in you,
My soul, what do they see?'
Someone put it this way: 'God has a surname. He is called the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob'. Hebrews 11, incidentally, and verse 16 says: 'He is not ashamed to be called their God' - but I wonder how God would feel having your surname this evening? 'The God of David' - put your name in there! My friends, I ask you: our sole duty on the earth is to exhibit Christ to our brethren and sisters and to a world that is dying, and is this not the very thing that we're failing in? I know we couldn't help but do anything else, for we all fall short of the glory of God - but I'm asking: is anything of Christ seen in my life and yours? James Spink said: 'More evil is done to the cause of Christianity by its adherents than its opponents'. Oh, we're touching sore spots tonight, but this is really where the rubber meets the road. Even in Hudson Taylor's days in the 1800s, he said: 'The inconsistencies of Christian people who, while professing to believe their Bibles, were yet content', in his day, 'to live just as if there was no such book'. He says: 'That was one of the strongest arguments of my sceptical companions' - nothing has changed! You witness to someone and they just point to a Christian, or to a church, and they say: 'Look at them! If that's what Christianity is, I don't want anything to do with it!'. I know we piously say: 'Och, but don't look at Christians, look at Christ' - my friend, they're meant to be looking at Christ in us!
George Duncan tells a story of a businessman - now not all businessmen are like this! - who was involved in a Christian broadcast on a previous evening. A girl that was employed by him heard it. Of course, the next morning he was in a very bad mood, and things were not going well for him or the girl. For some reason the girl seemed to get the brunt of it all and the benefit of his temper, and as she went out of the office she said to another girl coming in: 'That's right, come to Jesus on Sunday night, and go to hell on Monday morning'. Now listen: that's the way many unbelievers see Christians today. Can I ask you: are you a bitter, prickly, so-called Christian? Do you take offence at the smallest things? Do you maintain religiously a long memory of wrongs against you? Do you have an unforgiving spirit? Are you paralysed with spite and resentment? John says you need to look into your heart and question whether you're really a child of God, because that is a sign of characteristic natural darkness of a man or woman who has never been saved.
Isn't it ironic that today it's those who claim at times, just like the Docetists, to have a superior knowledge of God, they're the 'holier than thou' crowd, who are constantly in conflict with other believers and other people in our world - isn't that often the way? It's very hard to get a person that has, like the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, both grace and truth. It was Robert Candlish who said over a century ago: 'A selfish religionist is sure to become either morbid or stupid. It is by sympathy and brotherhood that the fire of personal Christianity is fanned'. One other man has said: 'The light in a man is darkness until it is warmed by love'. I don't care how much of the Bible you know, I really don't care - it's important to have a knowledge, but if it's without love, it's nothing! I don't believe in a 'second blessing', but there's some Christians could do with a baptism of fire and love!
Words are cheap, anyone can say anything. Maybe you're here tonight, and you haven't experienced much love in the Christian church to which you belong. How many walls of church buildings have heard the accusation: 'There's no fellowship in this place anyway, there's no love here'? But do you know what we all need to do? If we keep doing that and looking to other people, we'll get nowhere: we need to look at ourselves. We need to look at the lack of love that may be in my heart, the lack of forgiveness that may be in my breast. One very profound proverb in Proverbs 18:24 is this: 'A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly'. As one put it in verse:
'I went out to find a friend,
And found none there.
I went out to be a friend,
And found them everywhere'.
Look at your own heart tonight, don't look to the pew in front of you, to the front of the church, the other side, don't think of your own home church and the people that have offended you there - don't think of it, look in your own heart, my friend! Remember that the love of God was an unconditional love. God never waited until you were up to speed, and then He says: 'OK, I'll forgive you, don't do anything more again'. Oh, it was a gracious love. Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying tonight: does this mean that Christians can't disagree? Of course they can, they do, and they should. Does it mean that Christians can't be angry? Of course it doesn't, we are to be angry and sin not. It doesn't even mean that emotions of dissent among believers must be repressed, they must be expressed at times. What it does mean is that there should be no disagreement that should take a leap to the point of hate or a schism between the fellowship of two believers, because, my friend, there's more at stake than human pride! It is the very name of Christ and His image in the world today!
You have heard the quip: 'Actions speak louder than words', and that's exactly what John is saying. Robert Chapman was one of the early Brethren, and he set before himself this great aim, and I quote his words, he said: 'Seeing so many preach Christ, and so few live Christ, I will aim to live Christ'. Christ was preached from many pulpits in our land yesterday, and many adorned a suit, had a Bible under their arm, called themselves Christ's ones, even sat at His table, and many of them were evangelical - but who, today, is living Christ? John Nelson Darby said of R.C. Chapman: 'He lives what I teach'. Are you living Christ, my friend? Speaking of William Arnott, a friend of his said: 'His preaching was good, his writing was better, but his life was best of all'. One who only spent a night in the presence of Murray M'Cheyne said: 'Oh, that is the most Jesus-like man I ever saw!'.
What will they say of you when you're dead and gone? What will they say of me? 'He was principled', 'He was dogmatic', or 'He was Christlike'? We've only got one shot at it, only one life, only one chance - and remember that sin caused our first parents in the Garden that broken fellowship to run away and hide from God, and it still causes us to hide from God. But what I want you to see tonight is that it causes us to hide from our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we run from them! Roy Hession puts it like this - I started with a quote and I'll finish with one - 'Sin always involves us in being unreal'. Hiding, pretending, duplicity, windowdressing, excusing ourselves, blaming others - and we can do all that as much by our silence, as by saying or doing something. That is what John calls 'walking in darkness'. Just as we're not to hide our sins from God, we're to bring them into the light; we're not to hide our sins from our brothers and sisters in Christ, we're to bring them into the light too.
The moral test is obedience to the Word. The social test is to love our brother - but both of them can be summarised in this word 'Christlikeness'. How like the Lord Jesus Christ are you my friend? This is what God wants, this is what the church and the world needs. How are you? How do you measure up to His frame?
R.W. DeHann wrote of a missionary who, shortly after arriving on the field, was speaking for the first time to a group of villagers. He was trying to present the gospel to them. He began by describing the Lord Jesus Christ, and he referred to Him as a man who was compassionate and kind, loving, caring, one who went about doing good towards all men. When he was speaking, he noticed that his lesson brought smiles of familiarity to the faces of his audience, and some of them nodded their heads to one another in agreement. He was somewhat puzzled, and he interrupted his message to ask: 'Do you know who I'm talking about?'. One of the villagers quickly responded: 'Yes, we do. You're talking about a man who used to come here'. Eagerly they told about a missionary doctor who came to their remote village to minister to their physical needs, and his life was so like Christ in caring for those people that they saw Jesus in him. He walked even as Jesus walked: that is practical Christianity.
Can two walk together except they be agreed? Will you agree to walk with Him tonight? Bring out those sins that you're hiding between you and God, bring out before your brother or sister those sins that you're hiding towards them, and I'll tell you this: you will know revival in your soul.
Lord, that is our prayer, we can put it in no better words other than that you would make the mind of Christ our Saviour live in us from day-to-day, by His love and His power controlling all I do and say. Lord, make us like the Lord Jesus Christ we pray, for nothing else will do, nothing else will satisfy our souls or bring revival to our churches or bring an awakening to our world, other than being like Jesus. In His name we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fifth recording in his '1, 2 and 3 John' series, entitled "Practical Christianity" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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