So let's turn together then to 1 John chapter 5, and we're almost - I suppose - at the end of our studies, that's conjecture really how many more weeks we have in it - but nevertheless, we'll seek to get as much as we can out of these remaining verses. We're looking at the first six verses of chapter 5 this evening under the title: 'The Features Of Effectual Faith', and this is our fourteenth study in this little book.
Chapter 5 and verse 1: "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth".
Now if you have been following this study with us every Monday evening over the last while, you will have noted that right throughout this little book of five chapters are three interwoven threads. They are the tests, the proofs, the evidence of spiritual eternal life. To put it another way, they are the tests of how we can have assurance that we indeed are the children of God, or as John often puts it 'are born of God'. So this is a little epistle chiefly related to the issue of fellowship, how we can know we're in fellowship with God - i.e. how we know that we are born of God, the children of God, and how we can have assurance of that fact. Of course the three tests, those three threads are: 1) the doctrinal test; 2) the social test; and 3) the moral test. The doctrinal test being that we believe what the Scriptures teach, and what history records regarding our Lord Jesus Christ. The social test being that we love our brethren, and that others even in the world look upon us in the church and see the love that we have one toward the other, and see a witness of the very agape love of God in God's temple today, the church. Then the moral test, which simply is obedience - that we obey God's commandments, and we're walking in His precepts and principles.
Now what John does for us is, as he's effectually coming to the conclusion of this little book, is he blends these three thread themes together - truth, love and righteousness. In order to conclude this great message on assurance, just in case we didn't get the point already, he wants us to realise that these are the three tests, the three proofs of whether or not we are born of God. Now that being the case, however, he introduces a new term to us right at the very last chapter of the book which he has not used previously in this epistle, or indeed anywhere in his Gospel narrative - at least he never uses the noun until now. He uses the verb form in the Gospel and in this epistle, that is the verb 'believe', but here we find he uses the noun 'pistis' in Greek, which is the word 'faith'. 'Who is he', verse 5, 'that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?'; and verse 1, 'Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God'; verse 4, 'this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith' - and there is the noun.
Now, although this is a new introduction for us tonight, this thought is inextricably linked with all that has gone before - but now what he's doing for us is, he is reinforcing the true nature of Christian faith. This is the Christian faith, he's saying to us, and here are the evidences of that particular life in the believer. So what John's doing for us now is, he's using this term 'faith' inclusively and exclusively - what do I mean? Well, simply: he is wanting us to be sure of those who are in the faith, inclusive, and those who are outside the faith - remembering that there were those who were doubting in this assembly, just as there may be those in this assembly that we're speaking to tonight, and indeed right across our world, whether or not they are in the faith. So he wants us to be sure of how we can know the sheep that are in the fold, as opposed to the sheep that are still lost and outside the fold, and those who are trying to climb up some other way into the fold.
So he's bringing to us the truth of what the Christian faith is, what it is to be saved, and of course what it is to be lost; what it is to know that you have eternal life, and what it is to doubt and effectively not have it because of that doubt. Here is the evidence, he says to us, that you can know that you have effectually believed in the Lord Jesus Christ - again the three same: the doctrinal, the moral and the social tests. Now let me say that this introduction of this word 'pistis', 'faith', is very instructive for us in our post-modern and post-Christian era, because much thinking today in our world, and sadly to say also in the church, has been intoxicated by a philosophy which is called 'relativism'. You may have heard that expression but perhaps not understood what it means. Donald T. Kaufman in his dictionary of religious terms defines relativism thus, I quote: 'It is the point of view that since anything must be described in terms of something else and measured accordingly, everything is relative'. Let me repeat that: 'the point of view that since anything must be described in terms of something else and measured accordingly, everything is relative, and reality must be considered', he goes on to say, 'in subjective terms. In the religious field this may produce moral nihilism', which means no morality at all, 'and spiritual confusion. Whereas the Christian', in contradistinction, 'acknowledges temporal relativity', that there is relativity in the things of time, 'but trusts in an eternal God who is the source of absolute standards and values'.
Now maybe that has confused you! Let me illustrate it to you like this: the Christian ought, at least, to say today that homosexuality is wrong - why? Because God has established the absolute standard that sexual union is to be celebrated in the marriage bond between one man and one woman, and any other sexual activity outside of that, including homosexuality and various other heterosexual acts, is prohibited - God has given us an absolute standard. But the world says: 'No, no, no, that's not the case at all. Values are not absolute, values are related to other factors in life - and those factors can change, and therefore our values are subsequent to change also' - that is, for instance, society's opinion has shifted seismically regarding this issue of homosexuality, and therefore they conclude in a relativistic way that because it's acceptable to the majority of people in our land, therefore it must be alright. That is relativistic morality: 'It must be alright because it has become acceptable'.
Now that idea of relativism has manifest itself in the church, chiefly I would say in the ecumenical pragmatism that we see operating all around us. What is ecumenism? Well, it is a uniting together - which isn't a bad thing in and of itself - but unbiblical ecumenism ignores fundamental differences that there are in doctrine and belief, and they fellowship on common ground. So it doesn't matter that you differ with another fundamentally on certain intrinsic issues, as long as you have certain common ground you should be able to fellowship on it. Now there is, I believe, a biblical ecumenism which unites on fundamental doctrine, even though it is in spite of some minor divergence of opinion. Let me illustrate this to you: on Saturday past I received an invitation to announce to the church here the Women's World Day of Prayer. I didn't know anything about it, all I knew was that it was taking place in our vicinity in East Belfast Methodist Mission, and it was said to be in the literature 'A day when 'Christian' women over all the world united to pray' - and it's happening this Friday, the 3rd of March. Now that sounds great, and we should always encourage one another, Christians everywhere, to pray - and you know that I would be behind that. Then I read the literature a little bit further and found out that 'all Christian traditions were taking part' - that's not necessarily a bad thing, until you read that included within those traditions was the Roman Catholic tradition and the Orthodox tradition in its various spectrum of expression. Indeed, apparently, it was given in definition that the reason why it's being held on this Friday the 3rd of March was to accommodate those in the Orthodox Church. Now you say: 'What is the problem with that?' - well, added to it is the fact that many apostate Protestant churches, I'm sure, were getting involved in it; so it's not a sectarian view just chiefly towards Roman Catholicism and the like. But these churches, they deny the fundamental doctrine of the justification by faith alone of the believer - that is, that we are saved by grace through faith, not of ourselves, it's the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast, Ephesians 2:8-9. They deny the very means whereby we come to God, so how can we come together to God on different grounds?
So we have to therefore ask the question: what is this faith that we ought to be united in? Well, it certainly is not the relativism of our society or of ecumenical pragmatism. Sadly this relativistic philosophy and practice has contaminated much thought and faith in the church to the extent that what you believe doesn't matter, as much as how you believe what you believe, how sincere you are, how compassionate you are in holding and sharing your faith. Some would accuse me of being unloving and being uncompassionate in what I have just expressed, saying that those who don't believe in justification by faith cannot be classed as Christians - that's terribly intolerant, especially in our modern age! But the fact of the matter is, if anyone levels an unloving and uncompassionate trait to me on that ground, it is to the contrary - because John actually teaches us that he marries, and the Holy Spirit has married truth and the exclusivity of that truth with agape love, the two go together.
John is not the only one who does this, Paul does it frequently. In Ephesians 1 verse 15 Paul says: 'Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers' - faith and love. He does the same in Colossians 1:3-4: 'We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints'. First Thessalonians 1 verse 3 the same: 'Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father'. Paul is not on his own, along with John, but Peter joins in as well in 1 Peter 1:8: 'Whom having not seen', that is faith, 'ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory'. It is wrong to say that if you have a doctrinal belief that is fundamental and uncompromising, that in some way it is uncompassionate - the contrary is the truth. The exclusivity of truth can only abide with agape love, God's love will not abide with error.
Now John's stress is laid on the object of our faith rather than, as our society and the church at large stresses, the subjective experience of believing - how you believe: sincerely or compassionately. No, John wants us to see that the fundamental issue is the object of our faith, what we believe in, who we believe in. The body of belief, John is telling us, is not an optional extra somewhere down the pecking order after some esoteric experience that we have: 'I've known God, I've had this experience, that experience - it doesn't really matter the intricate details of who I believe in'. John says 'No! It means everything! It means your salvation!'.
So what is this faith that we ought to believe in, the features of effectual faith. Well here's the first thing he shares with us in both verse 1 and verse 5: a true Christian believes that Jesus Christ is born of God and is the Son of God. Verse 1, a true Christian believes that Jesus Christ is born of God; and verse 5, a true Christian believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. So John is again reminding us, if we needed it, that authentic Christian faith is based on something that is fixed, something that is constant, the evidence of the testimony of the life and the work and the words of Jesus Christ. Christianity is not some intellectual exercise practised by the highly intelligent, it is not some kind of emotional experience that is limited to the charismatically initiated and the privileged few. It's not an abstract idea or philosophy, it is not a theological or a theoretical concept in and of itself - John is telling us: it is in historical fact! This faith is the belief that Jesus is begotten of God, and is the Son of God. It is irreducible in its content. It has not, cannot, and ought never to be changed - that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
Now, listen to me: that is not an article of faith, that is our faith, start and finish! Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Now, throughout his first epistle John has been expounding what this means, to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He tells us first of all in chapter 1 and verses 1-3 that to believe in Christ is to believe in His Deity: '[The Word of God] was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us'. So you've got to believe that this Christ was divine. You see, the heretics that were sowing the seeds of their false doctrine in the church of Ephesus and others, the forerunners of the Gnostics, were teaching that the man Jesus was different than the Christ Spirit that came upon Him - a bit like the cults today and false religions. But you've got to believe that Jesus is the Christ, and He is the Son of God; Jesus the man, the Son of God as well.
To believe in the Christ is to believe in the power of His death to cleanse from all sin, chapter 1 verse 7: 'the blood of Jesus Christ God's Son cleanseth us from all sin'. Do you believe that, that His atonement is enough? The Unitarians do not believe that, the liberal Protestants do not believe it, the Roman Catholics do not believe it - you must believe it! It is that blood alone that will avert the righteous wrath and anger of God, chapter 2 and verse 2, that alone will be the propitiation for our sins, that alone will appease God as a worthy and righteous sacrifice for our sins. You've got to believe that God has expressed His love, not just His anger but His love, on the cross and through the death of our Lord Jesus in His atonement - chapter 4 and verses 9 and 10: 'In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins'. Is the cross, literally, the crux of your faith? For if it is not, it is not the Christian faith.
You've got to believe in Christ by believing that this eternal life is experienced only by faith in Him, and that faith is a product of the grace of God. We'll see it in subsequent weeks, verses 11 and 12 of chapter 5: 'And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life'. It is faith, by grace saved through faith. Now my friend, maybe you think that this statement is a bit naked, that our faith is to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Some might say: 'You could drive a horse and cart through that statement' - no, you can't! Jesus, the man, is the Christ - but He is begotten of God as the only Son of God, coequal to the Father as the Son in the triune Godhead - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet one essence. That is the God that is revealed in the Scriptures, that is the Saviour that was sent to this world - and if you reject Him in any of those attributes, you've rejected the faith.
Plummer, the commentator, put it well when he said: 'It is to believe that Jesus is the Christ. It is to believe that the One who was known as a man fulfilled a known and divine commission; that He was born and was crucified, is the Anointed, the Messiah of Israel, the Saviour of the world - to believe this is to accept both the Old and the New Testaments, it is to believe that Jesus is what He claimed to be: one who is equal with the Father, and as such demands of every believer the absolute surrender of self to Him'. A true Christian exhibits the faith - here's the doctrinal test - in the belief that Jesus Christ is the only begotten of God and Son of God.
Then secondly this faith is manifest in verse 1 and verse 4, because a true Christian is born-again: 'Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God', verse 4, 'For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world'. Now the tenses are very important, and they don't come out in the English language - so just bear with me. If you look at verse 1, it says: 'Whosoever believeth', or 'He who believes', that is the present tense, 'has been born of God', that is the perfect past tense. So let me define it like this: 'He who is presently believing in Christ, in the way that we have defined in verses 1 and 5, has been in the past born of God, and it is effected in our present'. So, something that happened in the past in your life, your new birth, has effected your belief in Jesus today as the only begotten Son of God. Do you see it?
One commentator put it like this: 'Our present continuing activity of believing is the result, and therefore the evidence, of our past experience of new birth by which we became and remain the children of God'. In other words, God took the initiative in our salvation and in the new birth. You see, faith is a gift of God, and it's not only God's gift to us as Ephesians 2:8-9 says, but it is, as John has pointed out, the first active sign that there is life in us - faith! But that faith presently in us is a sign of the new birth that happened in our past. Do you realise this? I feel, and I know that I'm on somewhat controversial ground, that at times the controversy of the matter robs us of the beauty and the wonder of this particular doctrine.
It's outlined for us in Ephesians 2 if you turn with me to it, showing how God took the initiative in our salvation. First of all in verses 1 to 3 Paul outlines how we as human beings are unable to save ourselves: 'And you...who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation', or way of life, 'in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God', God is the prime mover, 'who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ', just in case we miss the point, '(by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus'. Then in verse 8: 'For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God'.
Now we must say categorically on the authority of God's word, this passage and right throughout the whole New Testament and Old, that salvation is a work of God. From start to finish it is of God! Even in our individual salvation, we must come to terms with the fact that personally God instigated the first move in our individual experience. Now let me say that we do not believe, as I've repeated often the Scottish theologian who said: 'in any form of God's sovereignty that nullifies man's responsibility', and therein is a great mystery that I have never solved nor will - but yet we cannot deny the reality of what John is telling us, and what Paul tells us in Ephesians. That is that God instigates the new birth in our life that brings within us that faith that Jesus is the begotten Son of God.
Now you might say: 'Well, why do you have to emphasise that point this evening?'. It is somewhat controversial to believe that we must be quickened in order to believe in who Christ is and what He has done, and so on and so forth - but it has great ramifications on our contemporary society, and how we apply these Scriptures and how we apply the Gospel. What do I mean? Well, we're living in a godless culture, just as Paul and John did in their day. In a godless culture there's a great tendency that we stoop to all sorts of levels to communicate the Gospel to those around us who are lost. What this truth teaches us is that it is the new birth that brings spiritual life to men and women, we are not relying on our own human ability to bring people to the Saviour. We preach the word, and we do it faithfully, and we do it reasonably and rationally and passionately - but it is not for us alone to convince and to convert men and women. The danger is, in this day when the Gospel is lambasted and totally rejected, that the acceptability of our message to the masses becomes something that is so important that we divest it of this supernatural element, wherein it is a work of God! It's not just a decision of man! In our age we need to realise that our sufficiency is of God in this issue of salvation and in the issue of the ministry of the Gospel.
If that is a negative point to make: that we don't in any way pander to the lack of acceptability that our message may have to a post-modern, post-Christian age, there is a positive aspect to it. It's simply this: that if salvation is of God, God can still do it today the way He ever has done it! Now we need to beware, of course, for many have gone into an exclusive camp and corner whereby they've used this doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation as a pillow to lie their head upon, and they've gone to sleep evangelistically, and somehow believe that we don't need to preach the Gospel - when the fact of the matter is that we use the instrument of the Gospel that God has ordained to bring to Him those that should be saved. This is the truth that I want you to grasp: whatever the winds of change might be that are blowing in our society, the wind blows where He wills, and we hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell whence he or where he goes - so is everyone that is born of the Spirit. That ought to give us courage to preach the Gospel, knowing that it is the work of God, and God can still work it today.
Secondly, and this is the emphasis that I want to bring you more heavily tonight, this fact that God is the one who brings the new birth to bear upon men and women ought to implore us to implore God to do it over again and again and again! Do we call, and cry, and agonise, and groan, and weep, and mourn that God may move in new birth in the lives of our loved ones, our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues and our land? Do we wait upon God? You preachers, I don't care whether you're Calvinistic or Arminian, that is irrelevant to what I'm saying: do we wait upon God for the divine power that is necessary for preaching God's word? This is the work of God! I rebuke my own heart - just as God brought light into the world by a word, He brings new life through the word of His power. That is why we preach the word, it is the instrument of salvation - Romans 10:17: 'Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God'; 1 Peter 1:23 'Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever'. There is an executive, regenerative authority in the very word of God, but it must come effectually to men's hearts. Like Jesus, the Son of God, stood that day and shouted into the tomb that was stinking of Lazarus' flesh: 'Lazarus, come forth!' - could a dead man hear? He was made to hear by the power of God that was in the voice of the incarnate Son of God.
Now don't you start pigeonholing me - you can do it if you want - and asking me at the door: 'Are you this, that and the other?', because I'm not going to tell you, you should be awake enough to know. The fact of the matter is, this is what I want you to hear friends: salvation is of God, and if it's of God that means that it's not all about us - it's about God, and it's about us imploring God to move in His Spirit in the lives of individuals! Do we do that? Jesus said in John 5:25: 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live'. People say to me: 'You're contradicting yourself', or 'that doctrine contradicts another one' - well, did Jesus contradict Himself here? 'The hour is coming now when the dead shall hear' - how can the dead hear? The dead hear, as Charles Wesley says, 'When He speaks, and listening to His voice, the dead new life receive'.
That's what we need today: a true Christian is born-again - are you born-again? I'm not asking you did you put your hand up in some meeting, or did you pray a prayer or sign a card - I don't know what it was, but I'm asking you: are you born from above? Is the life of God in your soul? A true Christian believes that Jesus is begotten of God and the Son of God; a true Christian is born-again - these are the features of effectual faith. Then thirdly, a true Christian loves the Father and His family. Verses 1-2: 'and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments'. A true Christian loves his Father. Another translation puts it like this: 'Everyone who loves the Father, loves His child as well'. You see, the Spirit-given faith that comes from God in the new birth has life with that, and that life will manifest the fruit of the Spirit.
Paul said in Galatians 5:6: 'For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love'. The faith of God that saves is always saving faith alone; but that saving faith is never alone, it has fruit with it - and one of the fruit is love. Now you know when a baby is born it doesn't take place in isolation, and no baby is unique and unrelated in its characteristics from it family. It's born from a family, it's born into a family, and it has relatives and it will show features of those relatives - good as well as bad. What John is saying to us is this: if the life of God is in you, you will love your Father and you will love His family. A love without faith, as we've already said, is not the faith of the Gospel. To say 'Just love everybody, and deny the truths of the word of God' - that's not love, and it's not the Gospel; but equally so, faith without love is not the faith of the Gospel either. Faith without love is not a feature of effectual faith. Faith that does not lead to love is meaningless, and love that is not based on faith is powerless. The Scriptures testify, and I stand to be corrected, that when there is unity in truth - the next two letters of John, 2 and 3, are all about that - when you get the fundamental doctrines of the faith correct, and you unite together with brothers and sisters in the fellowship, God has a tendency to bless such a unity - that's when revival comes.
You mightn't like what you're hearing - it has never stopped me in the past. The fact of the matter is: when revival comes, denominational differences often pale into insignificance. You can sit there, and you can say: 'I believe in the brotherhood, I believe that we're all brothers and sisters in Christ'. You might go further and say: 'I believe that there shouldn't be denominations, and it should just be the church of God here and there and everywhere' - but I'm asking you, in the light of what John has said, is it only your certain type of Christian that you love? I mean, the one that's like you, a particular type and mould that you're in? It could be denominational: Presbyterian, Reformed, the Church of Ireland, Methodist, Baptist, Brethren, Independent - you name it, we could go on and on - and it's them. Maybe you don't hate everybody else, but you just love them a wee bit more. It could be class distinction, upper-class and you look down on those who are the working class. You could be a working class with trade union blood, and you look down on those who are above you. All sorts of divides - doctrinal divides - whilst we cherish doctrine and never ought to dilute it. You could be a Calvinist or an Arminian, and that matters to you so much - or a pre-millennialist, and you won't have a-millenialists or post-millennialists about you, when they're the children of God!
You see, what John is trying to get us to realise is that membership in God's family isn't limited to anything other than a confession that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. Therefore, if membership to the family is on that grounds and that grounds alone, fellowship in the family should be on that grounds and that grounds alone. Now that's God's word - you can add whatever doctrines and little rules and regulations on top of that you like, but that's God's word. I'm not saying these other things aren't important, of course they are - but they should never limit our brotherly love, that's what John is saying! It's ironic to me that often those who shout the loudest about the deficiencies of denominationalism and certain denominations, are often the most exclusive in their sectarianism!
A true Christian loves the Father and His family. Then fourthly and finally, a true Christian not only believes that Jesus Christ is born of God and is the Son of God, a true Christian is not only born-again, a true Christian not only loves the Father and His family, but verse 3 tells us that a true Christian is obedient to God's commands. Verse 3: 'For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous', or burdensome. Now right away we realise that there are two different world views here in our world. There is the view of the unregenerate, and there's the view of the child of God. It would be obvious, and we'd be surprised otherwise, if the unregenerate didn't see God's commandments as grievous or burdensome. Sometimes you hear them talk about that: 'Oh, you Christians, all you talk about is do's and don'ts and rules and regulations. Why would I want to be a Christian?'. They perceive themselves to be free, to be at liberty, doing what they want even in the face of a holy God. They see God's commandments as restrictive, they are burdensome, they're an irritation, positively irksome - 'Why would I ever want to be a Christian?'.
But I wonder do we, at times, think that way about God's commands? Now, be honest - secretly sometimes, to pray, to read the word, to study, to get to the Breaking of Bread, to love your neighbour, to not yield to temptation, and so on and so forth; it's not always easy, it can be a very big burden. So what is this meaning, because God's word clearly says that God's commandments are not burdensome and not grievous. Well, I think there's a twofold meaning here. You remember the Lord Jesus was speaking in the Gospels to the backdrop and context of Pharisaism. He said in Matthew 11: 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden', burdened, 'and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light' - contrasting it to the Pharisaic approach of adding 600 or so rules and regulations to the grace of God. In Matthew 23 He gives us an insight: 'They bind heavy burdens', Jesus said of the Pharisees, 'and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers'.
So what God's word is saying through John is that God commands are not like that, they're not burdensome like legalistic Pharisaism. If you've got legalistic Pharisaism, you haven't got the faith of God! If your Christianity exists of just rules and regulations, and do's and don'ts, what somebody looks like, how they measure up to your standards, that's not Christianity! I'm not saying there aren't rules, I'm not saying there aren't principles, I'm not saying there aren't standards - but if that's all you have, you haven't got the faith!
Secondly, I think what John is getting at is also the sense that when we love the Lord, His commands are not burdensome. Like the Lord Himself said: 'I delight to do Thy will, O God'. You might retort: 'Well, then why, at times, are they grievous and burdensome?' - because we don't love the Lord the way we ought. Oh, it is our chief complaint that our love is weak and faint. We need to love Him more, we need to get nearer to Him. He said in John 14:15: 'If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments'. One has said: 'The commandments of God become burdensome only when we desire to do something else. In that case, love for our own will dominates our love for God, and fellowship is broken, and what is intended for our good seems cruel and restrictive. The solution is to return to that position in which we love God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds'.
Where's your love tonight? Could that be a reflection on your lack of obedience? Do you remember when you were first in love with your wife? You'd need to have long memories, some of you! You used to open the car door and guide her into the passenger seat and everything, but now - as the saying goes - if you open the car door, it's either a new car or a new wife! The fact of the matter is: when love grows cold, obedience grows cold. Do you remember Jacob labouring for Rachel? Laban said: 'Labour seven years, serve me for seven years', and Genesis 29:20 says that those seven years seemed unto him but a few days, for the love that he had to her. That's what our obedience is meant to be, that God's commands are not grievous, are not burdensome - of course, there's times they will be, but it's all because our faith has grown weak and our love has grown cold.
When a mother takes a baby into her arms, and you tell her to look after that child, you're only telling that mother what she loves to do anyway. She loves the child, she's going to look after the child. Like the wee girl carrying her baby brother, and somebody said to her: 'Is he not a bit heavy for you dear?', and she says: 'He ain't heavy, he's my brother' - you know the saying! She loved him, so to carry that burden was not grievous, it was not irksome, it was not uncomfortable, it was not inconvenient. It was as burdensome as wings are to a bird! For eventually those burdens take off, and take you higher to glory near the Saviour!
A true Christian is obedient to God's commands - now all these are interconnected: faith, love, holiness. I want you to see this: it's like the spokes of a wheel, they're all worth nothing on their own. If one of them breaks, the other two are useless. My friend you need to see this: you could have all the doctrine and be able to expound it and pontificate and prove it, but if you don't have love, if you don't have holiness, it means nothing! Man, it could mean you're not even converted! That's the seriousness of this portion. Or maybe it's love that you have, but you don't have this doctrinal belief in the fundamental Gospel by grace through faith - you're not saved! Or maybe you've got the love, you've got the faith, but you haven't got the morality - your life is filled with sin and iniquity, an habitual lifestyle that John condemns, that proves that if you're habitually living in such a trend you're not a child of God. Now that's God's word: you've got to have the three! You say: 'That's a high price you're asking' - that's salvation, my friend! If it's a gift of God, it's not for the asking, it's been purchased through the cross at Calvary, it's yours if you'll believe it and embrace it. Do you have it?
Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to have a pastoral fraternal in London. The story goes that on one occasion a very accomplished speaker came to address those ministers and pastors, and he expounded the reformed doctrines of faith - Calvinism effectively. It transpired that months later, after his very good exposition, he was exposed as having been living in sin at the time that he gave the address. This was a great scandal, and the next time the fraternal met there was a man who quizzed Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones on this very issue, and asked him how it could be justified and so on and so forth, and how this man could have such a grasp of certain doctrines - whether you agree with them or not is immaterial - and yet he was living presently in habitual, continual sin. This is what the great doctor said, and it would be worth adhering to for all of us, he said: 'Give me a holy Arminian any day, over an unholy Calvinist'. Give me a holy Arminian any day, over an unholy Calvinist. Which are you? It doesn't matter to me whether you're an Arminian or a Calvinist, are you holy? You can have the doctrine, you can even have the love, but have you got the life?
I left one out - fifthly: a true Christian will overcome the world by faith. Verse 4: 'For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith'. You hear a lot about victorious Christian living today, but you see very little of it. Many Christians, if they were honest, are living defeated lives. They're asking the question: 'Is it possible to overcome the world?'. This phrase 'overcometh the world', 'overcometh' is in the Aorist tense - 'has overcome', literally. It indicates a victory which has been achieved, in the past, once for all, the effects of which we are still living with today. What is it talking about? Calvary! Is it possible to overcome the world? Yes! It has been overcome! He has nailed it to His cross - and your flesh, and the devil!
Now I know you're maybe not living in the victory of it, but your faith - the true effectual faith of God - rests foursquare on the fact that Jesus has defeated death, and anybody who can defeat death can defeat anything! You can't fight the world and overcome it, it doesn't come through organisations, it doesn't come through government, it doesn't come through politics, it doesn't come even through Reformation. He that overcomes the world must overcome it by faith. Faith gives the victory - why? Because it joins us to Christ, who has won the victory of the cross over the world, the flesh, and the devil. We become united with Him by faith, and therein overcome the world.
Are you defeated tonight? You need to ask yourself: are you a Christian? That's the first thing you need to do. I'm not going to tell you that if you called upon the name of the Lord you're saved, when you're living like a reprobate - that's not the Gospel. 'Many will say unto me, 'Lord, Lord', but they have not done the will of my Father in heaven'. Maybe you are believer and you just haven't got to the stage of appropriating what is yours in Christ: it's by faith, it's not by working it up, or stirring it up, or waiting, or doing this that and the other - it's by faith embracing it. Not just saying what God says is true, but acting on what God says because it is true!
The story is told of an American Civil War veteran who used to wander from place to place. He was a tramp and he would beg, and he hadn't even a bed to lie in at night. He rummaged in the rubbish for his eats. No matter where his travels took him, he always talked about a friend, Mr Abraham Lincoln - nobody ever believed him, of course, that he knew the great President. Because of his serious injuries during the war he was unable to hold down a job, and for as long as he could he kept going around and he would chat, as he begged and stole, about Abraham Lincoln. One day one man said to him: 'You say you know Mr Lincoln. I'm not sure that you did know him, I want you to prove it to me. Now come on!'. So the wee tramp put his hand in his pocket, and said: 'I can prove it, in fact I have a piece of paper here with Mr Lincoln's signature on it himself, and he gave it to me himself'. Out of his pocket the tattered wallet came, and a folded piece of paper. He unfolded it and showed this inquisitive man, and the tramp said: 'Now, I'm not good at reading, but I know that's Mr Lincoln's signature'. The man, with his chin hitting his boots, said: 'Do you know what is here? Mr Lincoln has personally authorised, with his signature, a pension for the rest of your life - a federal pension authorised by the President himself'. He looked into that tramp's eyes, and he said: 'Why on earth are you living like a tramp in the streets, when Mr Lincoln has made you rich?'.
I don't know whether people around us in the world doubt our claims - could it be because we have never appropriated the riches that are ours in Christ? Friends, these are the birthmarks of authentic Christianity. These are the features of effectual faith; and what I want all of you to do here tonight, whoever you are, is to look into the mirror of God's word and ask: do you recognise yourself as one that is born of God?
Father, we know that in another place John could say: 'I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, 'Now is come salvation and strength, and the Kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ; for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night, and they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto death'. Lord, we thank You that we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. Those of us who are saved and sure, may we continue to be more assured through these attributes and features of effectual faith in our lives. But Lord, those that are not sure, may they make sure, making their calling and election sure, being sure that they are in the faith - for nothing is more important. Their soul depends on it. O Lord, hear our prayer, and thank You for the Lord Jesus who gives us the victory over the world, in whose all victorious 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 fourteenth recording in his '1, 2 and 3 John' series, entitled "The Features Of Effectual Faith" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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