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Faith: Christianity in Action

November 16, 2009, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Pastor Daniel Tan (1 John 5:1-12) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 1,2,3 John
Preached at a Bilingual (Mandarin-English, Sunday) service

Tags: 1 John, 约翰一书

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Sermon on 1 John 5:1-12

Mortimer Adler (1902-2001) was an American philosopher, educator, and popular author. He was born into an orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn in 1902. He dropped out of school at age 14 to become a copy boy for the New York Sun, with the ultimate aspiration to become a journalist. But at night he attended evening classes and stumbled himself into a universe of ideas by reading the great works of Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, and others. He started taking classes at Columbia University but never received his bachelor’s degree, because he did not fulfill his physical education requirement of not passing the swimming test. Nevertheless, he continued to study year after year, until he was awarded a doctorate in philosophy, and eventually became a professor at the University of Chicago. He became editorial chief for Encyclopedia Britannica and edited the series Great books of the Western World. Adler had little interest in writing for his fellow scholars. Almost everything he wrote was for ordinary readers. But what is really interesting about Adler is that although his background was in orthodox Judaism, his specialty was the philosophy of the Middle Ages. That is to say that he became an expert, a world authority on medieval Christian theology. The more he studied the history and theology of Christianity, the more sympathetic he was to the Christian faith. He was actually inclined to believe it. He told people he had been “on the edge of becoming a Christian several times”. But when asked why he didn’t embrace Christian faith, he answered, “If one converts by a clear conscious act of will, one had better be prepared to live a truly Christian life. So, you asked yourself, ‘Are you prepared to give up all of your vices and weaknesses of the flesh?’” He told one journalist that he had no intellectual barriers to Christian faith. His hesitation was about moral choices he wasn’t yet willing to make. (“I Want To Believe”, Mel Lawrenz)

Yes, brothers and sisters, Christian faith is not to be thought of as a noun, a “thing” that you either have or you don’t. Christian faith must be treated as a verb, an “action” to live out what you believe. In other words, faith is not just a belief but it is a belief that impacts our daily decisions and lives. And this is exactly what John has been teaching in his letter to his former congregation. Throughout his writing, John favors using faith as a verb to express one’s confession of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and to be followed by Christian action. His intention for his readers is to view faith as an action as something they do not just believe. Someone says it very well that: There are two parts of the Gospel. The first is the believing part, and the second is the behaving part. So, in today’s passage, we want to explore what is the nature of Christian faith and what action it entails. In other words, what would Christian faith bring to and impact the believers? I therefore entitled my sermon: Faith: Christianity in action. For John, the first thing that Christian faith affects the believers is that it opens the door to the testimony of the Lord with its eternal truth.

1. Faith opens the door to the testimony of the Lord with its eternal truth

According to John, the foundation of Christian faith is built on Jesus’ identity. That is to say faith’s proper object is Jesus Christ, and it affirms that this Jesus Christ is the Son of God. But what is the source or evidence of this Christian faith? John therefore must describe who this historical Jesus is: He is the One who came by water and blood. Reference to Jesus’ coming—“the One who came”—most likely implies His heavenly origin. As John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is the true light who is coming into the world (1:9). He is the One whom John the Baptist promised is “coming” after him. So, Jesus is the One coming from above, from heaven (Jn 3:31). But His coming is in what form? John states that He came by water and blood. Commentators differ in their opinions as to the meaning of “water and blood”. For example, “water” could refer to the waters of natural child birth, implying Jesus’ true humanity. The “water” might also point to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry when He was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove. As such, Jesus’ identity was revealed as the “coming one” in His baptism. Most commentators would agree that the “blood” seems to be a clear reference to Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. As we are told in John’s Gospel at Jesus’ crucifixion, when one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear and immediately there came out blood and water (19:34). In short, the best interpretation for the “water and blood” is to refer them to the terminal points in Jesus’ earthly ministry: starting from His baptism (water) and ending at His crucifixion (blood). John is saying that historically, Jesus “came” into His power by the “water” of His baptism, and even more so by the “blood” of His cross. But we note that John in particular wanted to stress that Jesus did not come by water only, but by water and blood. This is because his heretical opponents accepted Jesus’ baptism but did not regard His blood as sacrificial on the cross. For the heretics, Jesus was born like any other human being, but at his baptism he became holier and wiser as God’s special agent when the heavenly Christ descended upon him in the form of a dove. The heavenly Christ abandoned Jesus before his death, and consequently it was only the earthly Jesus who died on the cross. In seeking to refute this heretical teaching, John thus emphasized that it was Jesus Christ as Son of God who experienced both baptism and crucifixion. As such, His death on the cross became the atoning sacrifice for our salvation. The point that John is making is that the Christian faith is anchored in concrete historical facts of this man—Jesus Christ, who is well accredited by eye witnesses to make the Christian faith a perfectly reasonable one.

Beside human eye witnesses, in further support of Jesus’ historical life and death, John appeals to the testimony of the Spirit. The witness of the Spirit is needed because Jesus’ divinity is a scandal and a stumbling block to the world. It is because the sacrificial death of Jesus does not speak for itself, at least not before the world. So, the role of the Spirit is to bear witness to the truth about Jesus’ life and work as the Son of God. In John’s Gospel, the Spirit’s testifying role is mainly bearing witness to Jesus against the world. In this letter (1 John), the Spirit’s testifying role is mainly bearing witness to believers concerning the truth of the message about Jesus that they heard from the beginning (cf. 2:24-27). So, we see the twofold roles of the Spirit: bearing witness to the world and to the believers. The Spirit is indeed the great commentator, who by His testimony interprets events of Jesus’ life and death (including His resurrection) with reference to Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. The Spirit is able to perform this function of witness and interpretation because He is “the truth”, thus guaranteeing the truthfulness of Jesus’ identity as the Christ, the Son of God. So, we see water and blood were historical factors that played a major role in the coming of Christ, with the Spirit now added as another witness. Together they constituted three witnesses but they work together toward the same result: that of establishing the truth that Jesus is Christ and Son of God.

Governed by the idea of testimony, John further expands his argument enabling him to condemn even more strongly the heretics’ rejection of the true testimony to Christ. He now places human and divine testimonies in contrast, assuring his readers that God Himself has given the same testimony as that which is confessed by the Christian community, namely, that Jesus is the Son of God. If one can accept human testimony, what about God’s own testimony? Nobody can ignore this divine testimony. It can only be accepted in faith or rejected in unbelief. This is what determines the individual’s salvation. John does not point out when and where did God give testimony to His Son. In Mark’s Gospel, we know that God gives His testimony concerning Jesus as His Son at Jesus’ baptism and at the transfiguration. In John’s Gospel, he does not account for these two events. But he does record Jesus’ saying that “the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me” (Jn 5:37). So, John merely wants to point out the fact that God Himself indeed bears witness to Jesus. For John, the testimony of God is the same as the Gospel’s message proclaimed from the beginning. It is God’s divine authority that rests behind the testimony of the water and the blood. It is His Spirit that is affirming the truth about Jesus’ identity. Therefore, disbelieving this divine testimony will have severe consequences.

But anybody who believes in Jesus as the Son of God is the one who affirms and accepts God’s testimony concerning His Son. The result is that he (she) has God’s testimony “in his (her) heart”. In other words, the believers by faith have accepted the witness of God internally and are now bearing it within their hearts. They must remain committed to their belief so that this witness of God concerning His Son becomes a permanent possession of the believers, one that is always valid and true living in them. In contrast to this, the fault of the unbelievers is that they have made God a “liar” insofar as His witness is concerned. They have made this judgment permanent through their unbelief. John is in fact refuting his opponents of their inconsistency that on one hand they profess believing in God, yet on the other hand they disbelieve what God has testified concerning His Son, Jesus Christ. By so doing, they make God out to be a liar.

Yes, brothers and sisters, when come to Christian belief, we always hear people saying: Why should I believe? Then there will be reasons after reasons of choosing not to believe. By asking why should we believe, the focus is on us. It is hard to get a clear vision of God when we are focusing on ourselves. So, instead of asking why should I believe, it is better to ask: Why should God want me to believe? By asking the right question, we are letting God talking to us. In my previous sermon, John has already let us see that God’s love for us is so unearthly, so gracious that we humankind cannot understand the magnitude of such love. Because of His love, God wants to claim us as His children, to adopt us into His family. That is why God wants us to believe in Him. That is why God Himself bears testimony concerning His Son, Jesus Christ. If anyone is open to His testimony, to the historical events of the life and work of Jesus Christ, to the Gospel’s message proclaimed by Jesus Christ and to the accounts of the eyewitnesses, God’s Spirit would inspire and guide him (her) into understanding of the truth concerning Jesus Christ. And by faith, he (she) would recognize and accept who Jesus Christ is. So, faith is subjective on the part of the person to act; yet on the other hand God has already laid down the objective, concrete foundations for him (her) to believe. So, let us remember that God longs for us to believe in Him and His Son–not because He is incomplete without us, but because He knows how incomplete we are without Him.

1. Faith opens the door of love to the believers’ lives

So, brothers and sisters, we have seen that faith opens the door to the testimony of the Lord with its eternal truth, faith also opens the door of love to the believers’ lives. This is the second aspect of Christian faith in action. John’s unyielding interest in love is one well known hallmark of his letter. In the previous chapters, again and again, he affirms the importance of love and why the believers must love: love God and love one another. In fact, the key to Christian identity, John has been insisting, is love. But how can such love be manifested? Or what makes such love possible? John tells us that it is faith that leads believers to love God and love one another. He makes it very clear in 3:23 that it is God’s command for us to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as His Son has commanded. So, we see faith and love, they are both centered in the person of Jesus Christ. It is the correct faith in Jesus Christ and His commands that prompt us to love. For John, faith and love are two expressions of what the child of God does. They are each expressions of the work of God in Christian life.

In the beginning of today passage, John again speaks of believing and loving as two inseparable signs or actions as children of God. He states: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father love his child as well. John is telling us that it is first our correct belief in Jesus Christ that makes us children of God. Being born of God, to have Him as our Father, the result of our faith should not stop here. It should lead us to right behavior. This right behavior is to love God and to love others who are equally given the status as children of God. In other words, it is the common faith in Jesus Christ that believers naturally will love God and love one another. As Mother Teresa correctly states that the fruit of faith is love! But which love comes first? Love for human or the love for God? John’s previous approach is to say that people’s claims to love God are to be tested by the presence or absence of love for fellow believers. For example, in 4:20 John argues that “anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen”. In this sense, human love seems to take precedence over the love for God. But John’s logic seems to be reverse in verse 2 of today passage, as he states that “this is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands”. John now makes loving God and doing His commands the test of loving fellow believers. In this sense, love for God seems to take precedence over human love.

So, John’s arguments on loving God and loving fellow believers appear to go in a circle. But in actual fact, he wants to point out that these two actions go together. As one commentator rightly puts it: “The idea (in verse 2) is not that only after or if we love God and obey His commandments, do we then love God’s children, but that the two actions go together and are simultaneous. We love the children of God when we love God and do His commandments” (Raymond Brown). As a matter of fact, God’s commands involve having love for others (3:11; 4:7,21). Therefore, love for God and love for others are interrelated. Each feeds and strengthens the other.

By emphasizing love for God over human love in verse 2, John wants to avoid oversimplification of Christian faith. As some Christians might think being nice to other people (especially on occasions like Christmas and Easter) in the general name of “God” and “Jesus Christ”, is an adequate expression of faith. To them, their love for God is just another way of treating other people nicely. If our relationship with others is only interpersonal, without having God and Jesus Christ coming into the picture, we are in fact reducing our faith to a kind of humanism. While decent treatment of others, particularly fellow believers, is always important, our action cannot be separated from our love for God and the pursuit of His commands. This is so because “only someone who is on fire with the love of his Maker can be said to love his fellow humans in the right way” (Bede). If we come up short in our love for God, we will actually find it hard to love others truly because God is the One who defines love and is love. This is true in any kind of human relationships, be it the relationship of husband and wife, parent and child, among siblings, friends and colleagues. The relationship can be beautiful but may tinge with sadness and ultimately become tragic, if it lacks the vertical direction of our love for God. The following quotations will further elaborate the importance for us to love God as a foundation for our love to others:

* Men are loved rightly and duly when God stands first (Calvin).
* If God means little to you, people will become worthless to you too, and love even for them will die out (Schlatter).
* I try to give to the poor people for love what the rich could get for money. No, I would not touch a leper for a thousand pounds; yet I willingly cure him for the love of God (Mother Teresa).
* Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus (Mother Teresa).

1. Faith opens the door to victory and to eternal life

So, brothers and sisters, we have seen that Christian faith is recognizing and accepting who Jesus Christ is. Its foundation is based on the historical events of the life and work of Jesus, the eye witnesses’ accounts and God’s own testimony concerning His Son. It is also God’s Spirit who inspires and guides the believers into the understanding of the truth concerning Jesus Christ. Secondly, Christian faith does not only concern in believing but also involves the behaving part. Our faith must lead us to love God and love one another. The love for God should be our basis for loving others. But how can one love God? John says in verse 3 that we know we love God by carrying out His commands. So, commandment-keeping is clearly an important component in Christian faith as John understands it. As we believe and behave, our Christian faith thus opens the door to victory over the world and to eternal life. This is the third aspect of Christian faith in John’s teaching.

What kind of God’s commandments are Christians supposed to keep? John does not spell out specifically. But from his previous teaching, they certainly include the command to love (4:21) and the command to believe in the name of Jesus Christ as the Son of God (3:23). For John, God’s commandments are not burdensome to believers if they truly love Him. It is because God’s commands are not demands extraneous to us, imposed upon us to which we must measure up. They are not meant to oppress us or crush us. Our obedience to God’s commands is the response to God’s love in our lives. Most importantly, God’s commands are not beyond our ability to keep because John assures us in verse 4 that “for everyone born of God overcomes the world”. What John’s saying is that as children of God, we have been given the power by God Himself to overcome the forces of temptations which would prevent our obedience to God. Because of our new birth, we are given the same power to withstand the forces of the world as well. As long as we are living in this world, our struggle with the world continues. There will be struggles between truth and falsehood, light and darkness, love and hate, Christian and world value. In short, the world continues to tempt people into sin and seduce them through the desires that are in the world (2:16). But those who are born of God are given the power to resist this pressure. They refuse to get enmeshed in the world and in the power of sin which continues to tempt them. Thus, John’s affirmation is that they overcome the world. That is to say they have actually won the victory over the world.

It is striking to note that John says Christians’ victory is not in the future, but in the present that they have overcome the world. It is because of the victory that Christ Himself has won over the world on the cross and in His resurrection. This victory is now repeated in the lives of the Christians. Thus, to believe that Jesus has been victorious is to have the power that enables us also to win the battle, for we know that our enemy is already defeated and therefore powerless. And it is precisely this faith in Christ that we need. John therefore in verse 5 asserts us that: “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God”. To the natural man, the power of evil appears uncontrollable, and to the weak Christians the force of temptation appears irresistible. Therefore it requires a firm belief in Jesus to enable us to win the battle over the world. By exercising our faith in Christ and actively carrying out God’s commands, victory is ours to experience in our daily lives.

Finally, John in his concluding verses assures us that our faith in Christ not only enables us to gain victory over the world, it also allows us to participate in eternal life. By accepting God’s testimony concerning His Son, the consequences of our faith is that “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life”. For John, eternal life is not an unending extension of life as we would think of it; or life only to be received in the future. Rather, it is “having” Jesus Christ Himself. Eternal life is identified with Jesus Christ. That is to say as long as one puts his (her) trust in Jesus continuously, he (she) has already in the present moment possessed this eternal life because he (she) is in close fellowship with the Son. The reverse is the truth. Not to have Jesus, or not to give Him a hearing and thereby come to faith in Him, is to forfeit that same life for they have cut themselves off from the fellowship with the Son.

Yes, brothers and sisters, Christians who believe and have faith in Jesus Christ, they are being born of God, being adopted by Him into His family. But our faith in Christ and our status as God’s children do not necessary mean that we can escape from the conflict of this world and the evil power. Many times, we find it hard to win the battle. Even though we have worked hard, we still feel inadequate. But it is precisely in this kind of situation God wants us to grow, to emerge as a stronger Christian. Someone has given this illustration on Christian growth. This person was told that one of the most popular aquarium fish is the shark. If you catch a small shark and confine it, it will stay a size proportionate to the aquarium you put it in. Shark can be six inches long yet fully matured. But if you turn them loose in the ocean, they grow to their normal length of eight feet. This is exactly what God wants us to be, to grow to our full potential. God does not want us to swim around in a small shallow pool of water for our security, He wants us to swim in the larger arena of this world so that through His power we will be able to grow to full maturity. Christ has already won the victory over the world for our sake, what we need to do is just to hold firm our trust in Him and to stay close to him. When our faith is in action, we will continue to receive His power and gain a fresh vision of His love and His guidance in our lives. After all, our eternal fellowship with Him is the life that has been promised to us by God Himself.

1 John 5:1–12 (Listen)

5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

(ESV)