Sunday, November 29, 2015

Should We Fear God?

1 John 4:17-18

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

John today gives us the formula for having confidence before God. And it all starts with God. It all starts with who God is. God is love. What does this mean? God never does anything that is not loving. Why? Because that is His very nature. Importantly this is a love that is unconditional. Unconditional love is something we rarely experience in the world. Usually our parents are the best example of unconditional love in this world.

One of my favorite verses in the bible is "perfect love casts out all fear". This is a different kind of fear than fear of God because of His holiness. The fear of God that is out of awe and respect for who God is. The fear in this passage is a fear of punishment. This is the fear Adam and Eve experienced when they sinned in the Garden. They felt ashamed and avoided God. When we experience God's unconditional love in Jesus, we are transformed. We begin to love like Jesus did, and it gives us confidence not fear before God.

Therefore, when we love others unconditionally, it results in three things.

1. It shows we know God's love and we witness that God is love.
2. It gives us confidence that we are doing something we were created and now empowered to do.
3. It benefits the recipient of our love, and they experience God's love through us.

A final word on this kind of love. This love is tested when we meet someone who would seem "unloveable". It is easy to love people who are easy to love, but love is proved when the person we love is incapable of loving us back. This is where love is perfected, because this is how God loves. God proved His loved by this, "When we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!" Romans 5:8

How is God calling you to love more like He does? Who is God calling you to love like He does? As we obey God in our love for others, God's love is made perfect in us.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

How Can You Know If You Are Saved??

1 John 4:13-16

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

One of the most under applied doctrines in the Christian faith is the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Today, John tells us how important the Spirit is in our relationship with God. It is the person of the Holy Spirit that testifies with our spirit, so we can know without a shadow of doubt we live in Him.

Paul says in Ephesians 1:14, "The Holy Spirit is a downpayment guaranteeing our future inheritance." Notice the word "guarantee". God does not want us to doubt where we are going when we die. A Christian should answer the question, "Do you know that you are going to go to heaven?", with, "Absolutely!" Some might say that is pretty presumptive, but our assumption is not based on what we have done, but what God has done. The gift of the Holy Spirit, which we received when we came to faith in Jesus, assures us that we are God's child. Our confidence is not in what we have done, or how strong of faith we have, but God's free and unmerited gift.

Martin Luther said this about the work of the Holy Spirit, "I cannot by my own effort or understanding come to know Jesus as Lord, but the Holy Spirit has called me and enlightened with His gifts. Day by day, He sanctifies me in the one true faith." Again we see it is God's work that leads us to believe in Jesus, through the gift of faith. So what is the benefit of knowing that our relationship with God is not something we earned or deserved, or need to continue to work for?

The benefit is this frees us up to love and serve God without any fear. "Perfect love casts out all fear", the first letter of John states. So the question for the day is do you know God? Do you realize it is God's work in you, as the Holy Spirit convicts of your need for the a Savior, and reveals the person and work of Jesus Christ?

One of the things we can be thankful for is all God has done for us! Make sure you include this in your Thanksgiving blessings this year!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What Does Love Do?

God’s Love and Ours
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

John has spent 3 chapters trying to make the believers aware of the false teachers, and why what they were teaching was so dangerous. Today he moves more to what the right teaching is, and maybe more importantly what it looks like in their lives. John distinguishes God's love from worldly love in a couple of ways including:

1. God is love, and love comes from God. We might say its source is in Him. Therefore, if we are born of God, we can't help but exhibit His love which flows from Him through us.

2. God's clearest expression of His love is when He sent His Son Jesus to the earth. Jesus showed us what a loving God looks like. Everything Jesus did reflected God's love. Colossians 1:15 states, "The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation."

3. God loved us first, before we even knew how to love. We cannot truly love until we have received his love. We cannot transmit what we don't have.

4. The purest form of God's love is Jesus' atoning sacrifice for our sins. Romans 5:8 says, "But God proved his love in this, while we were yet sinners, Christ does for us." If we need proof that God is a loving God, we need only look at the cross.

John is saying to us, this is the new community of love that Jesus established and you will continue if you remain in Him. This is the distinctive of the Christian community, what the bible calls "agape" love. Not that we loved God, but He loved us first. A God's love is unconditional. He loves us just because He loves us.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a day we give thanks for the many blessings in our lives like family, food, friends and freedom. But may we not forget to thank God for demonstrating what true love is like when He sent us His Son. Through Jesus' love for us, we are transformed into people who show the world what the invisible God looks like. It shows that we teach is not false but true.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Greater is He that is Within You than He that is in the World!!!

1 John 4:4-6

4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

After warning of the dangers of these false teachers, John encourages the believers with these words. First, he says they have overcome them. Though we are tempted in this life through bad teaching and behavior, the battle is over. And then he gives us an amazing promise when he says, "Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world." Of course he is referring to the Holy Spirit, who is in you when you come to faith. He that is in the world is Satan, or the devil, who works overtime through these false teachers to confuse and deceive believers. That is his main goal.

But even though we need to be aware of the devil and his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11), we don't need to be afraid of him. Why? Because the One who lives in you is the greater than the one who is in the world. We have the power of Jesus, and the power of His resurrection living in us. We have the authority to rebuke the devil and he will flee from us. Paul says this about Jesus' work on the cross, "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." (Colossians 2:15)

So again John is looking at his dear children, his sons and daughters in the faith, and saying, "Although need to be aware of these false teachers who are trying to corrupt you, you don't need to be afraid of them." If you are in Him, you have the Spirit who will help you to discern false teachers.

Where are you vulnerable to false teaching? What teaching from the world is most likely to tempt you as a believer? God has given us His Word and His Spirit to continue to guide us in the Truth and warn us of error. This is a greater power than anything of or in the world can touch!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Why Is It Important That Jesus Became a Man?

1 John 4:1-3

On Denying the Incarnation
4 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

John summarizes his teaching about false teachers today by telling the believers to "not believe every spirit", but test the spirits to see whether they are from God or not. A person's teaching flows from their spirit within them. Notice the spiritual reality of what is taught regarding spiritual matters. If someone purports to impart a spiritual message it is via one of two spirits. A spirit of the world, or from the Spirit of God. And John gives a litmus test for which spirit it is. He says you can recognize the Spirit of God by how they teach about Jesus Christ.

Further he adds if a spirit does not acknowledge that "Jesus has come in the flesh" it is not of God. Why is that so important? One of the earliest heresies is called "docetism", from the Greek word "dokeo", which means to "seem or appear". Synonyms would be "phantom" or "illusory". This came from a false belief that God could not enter a human body, so Jesus was not really human.

So what's the big deal about that? The very big deal is that if Jesus isn't really human, he did not come in the flesh. If he didn't really come as a human being, he really didn't die on the cross. And if he really didn't die on the cross, then how are our sins forgiven. How can Jesus be the perfect substitute for our sins, if he didn't take God's punishment on the cross? So you can see why this is such a big heresy. It takes the very heart out of Christianity. This was universally condemned at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, which produced our Nicene Creed.

Here is what the Second Article about Jesus says about what we believe in...

"And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end."

Notice it is says "was made man" Jesus' incarnation is one of the precious doctrines we hold as Christians. In it we realize God is with us. As we head into Christmas it is the center of what it meant for him to come into the world as a baby. He didn't just seem to be a baby, he was one. One of the ways we are comforted in our suffering is to realize that Jesus suffered in a human body. He knows what we are going through because he became one of us.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Confidence not Condemnation!

1 John 3:19-24

19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

John gives us today more assurance of what it means to have confidence in what we believe.

1. We rest in His presence. When we are a true believer and know God through Jesus, we can truly rest. We can rest in His peace and in His promises. We can rest because He has done everything we need for life and salvation.

2. If we feel condemnation, it is not from God. Meaning if we get discouraged for something we have done, God is bigger than our bad decisions. While we may feel guilt if we do wrong, there is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1)

3. We don't have condemnation, but confidence. Not confidence in ourselves, but confident in what God has done for us. And in this confidence we can pray boldly and expectantly.

4. The source of our assurance is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a gift given to us from God. The Holy Spirit testifies with our spirit and is a down payment guaranteeing our future inheritance. (See both Ephesians 1:14, 2 Corinthians 1:22)

John knew that these young believers would need these assurances when they stumbled, as we all do. But he wanted to remind them that their confidence is in what He had done for them, by sending His Son. And when Jesus left He sent the Holy Spirit to continue to guide us them for the rest of their lives.

What causes you to doubt your faith? What troubles your heart and makes it restless? Have you learned how to rest in His presence? God doesn't want us to live wondering if He loves us. God wants our obedience for sure, but most of all He wants us!

Friday, November 20, 2015

What's Love Got to Do?

1 John 3:11-17

Love One Another
11 This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was righteous. 13 So don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.

14 If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. 15 Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.

16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?

As John continues to distinguish between true and false teaching, and what it looks like to know God, he turns to another indicator. This is not a new message, but at the heart of the Ten Commandments. The first three commandments deal with love of God, and the next seven deal with love of neighbor. The assumption is our love for each other, is predicated on the love we have received from God.

And if this is true, the opposite is as well. When someone doesn't love his brother the love of God is not in him. In the extreme case of Cain, he was jealous of his brother's sacrifice, and killed him. Not only did he not love him, he hated him. And if hate is fueled by the evil one, then when someone in their hate murders someone, they are not of God, but of the evil one. When we say "of" we mean under the influence of, or from the source of. To the contrary, love has its source in God and specifically Jesus, who showed God's love by dying on the cross.

So in the context, John is showing that obedience is most clearly shown in the love of a brother or sister. Then, he takes another step, and shows practically what this love looks like in action. When someone has ample means and sees a brother or sister in need and does nothing to help them, how can the love of God be in them? If God reached down when we were in need and used his riches to show us mercy, how can the love of God be in us if we willfully neglect someone in need.

So if showing love to one another is the clearest indicator of our relationship with God, how are we doing? How are you doing? We don't always do the good thing God asks us to do. This is why we confess our sins on Sunday by saying, "we confess the things we have done, and the things we have left undone". A lot of times the sin we focus on is what we do wrong. But, we often don't talk about sins of "omission". We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. He didn't leave anything undone. And this will be a sign that we have passed from death to life.