Monday, January 10, 2011
As most of you know I do a considerable amount of counseling. Much of it is marriage counseling. Some of it is with young men wanting to get married. Or with people who have habits they need to change. Sometimes it has to do with getting rid of pain: emotional, physical, or mental. While what prompts people to come to me is their life difficulty, my goal in counseling is to help everyone to mature in Christ and to become more Christlike in the process (Col. 1:28). I want to take each person to God’s throne so that they can receive grace in their time of need. Sometimes God takes away their pain, but sometimes he says, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). Sometimes he changes their hearts in such a way that their problems melt away. Sometimes nothing changes and the person simply leaves. But in every case the people I talk with are faced with the commandments of God. Submission to the will of God is necessary, required, and essential if someone wants to have a whole life. But for some, his commands are very hard, difficult and in many cases beyond the person’s ability to obey. This morning I would like to talk about why that is and how you can come to believe that God’s commands are not burdensome at all.
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? (1John 5:1-5)
Overview of the text
One of the greatest assurances of our salvation is knowing that we have been born again. The text tells us that since we believe that Jesus is the Christ, we have been born of God (v. 1). Being born of God is the same thing as being born again and we know that Jesus said in John 3 that the one who has been born again will be the one who will see the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3). In our text, John goes on to qualify what believing that Jesus is the Christ means, when he said that because you love the Father you know that you have been born of him (v. 1). Then John goes even further and says that since you love the Father, you also love the other children of God, your siblings (v. 1). Finally, John ratchets the whole thing up one more step and says that you know that you love the children of God because you obey his commands (v. 2).
John further qualifies what it means to love God by saying that loving God means obeying his commandments. And he adds that God’s commandments are not a burden (3). They are easy, common, normal to obey. God gives the command, we do it automatically. He says jump and we say “how high,” on the way up.
Then John seems to take a sharp turn and says that everyone who has been born of God has overcome the world (v. 4). You have won a great victory and the thing that won the war is your faith (v. 4).
Finally, he ties the whole passage together and says that the one who believes that Jesus is the son of God is the one who has overcome the world (v. 5). Believing, loving, obeying, and overcoming are all part of the normal Christian life.
Notice that these are not conditional statements. They are indicative statements. Statement of facts. Notice this as I re-read the text.
What is the world that we have overcome? As you know, the Bible doesn’t explain things to us like a dictionary, it gives us examples and assumes we learn what the word means. Jesus said this, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (Jn 12:31). The world is that area of creation where Satan was cast out of power. Peter tells us that he still prowls around looking for someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). But the Bible tells us that Satan was thrown down when Jesus was Crucified (Col. 2:15 NIV). Jesus overcame the leader of the world system by dying. The world is the part of creation that Satan was over.
Second, Jesus tells us that the world hates Jesus and will hate us too because we love Jesus (Jn. 15:18). The world is that portion of creation that hates and/or ignores the Lordship of Jesus Christ and will not bow the knee to him. But the way John uses it is actually deeper than that. The world is that system of rebellion that those who hate Jesus have bought into and live in. One commentator said, the world is “any religious, cultural, political, social, or economic system organized in opposition to God…” He adds, “probably also a ‘culture’ organized in opposition to, or indifferent to Jesus the word of Life.”
Third, John says the world is characterized by the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life (2:16).
Put together we can see that the world, John is referring to, is the people whose system leads them to hate God and his Christ. They do not believe that God is a loving God, who has sent his only son to die for his people.
Our faith has overcome the world
One of the things we need to remember as we read our text is that the words: faith, belief, and trust all come from the same Greek word. In other words, you can substitute any of these words to help make more sense of the text. When John says our faith has overcome the world, we could just as easily have said our trust overcomes the world. When we say it that way it makes a lot of sense of what are sometimes problematic passages related to how we become Christians and what happens when we become Christians.
Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26).
In another place he said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luk 9:23-25).
Paul said, “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:10-14).
And of himself he said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)
This leads us into how we have overcome the world. As you have been listening to the passages you have heard the theme of death repeating itself. First, Jesus overcame Satan the leader of the world by his death. Second, part of the way we turn to God in repentance requires that we pick up our crosses and follow Jesus (Matt. 10:38).
When we believe the Gospel, we give our lives over to Christ and in this way we die in Christ. The phrase “in Christ” means that we have died “in Christ” and are risen “in Christ.” He overcame death and the world through his death, and thus we overcome the world with him because we are in him.
The Good News about Jesus is that he died in our place and God exalted him to the highest place in the universe. He is Lord of lords and King of kings. These are the facts. This is what has happened for you. But the Bible is also full of military language. It was the King who came down and destroyed the enemy. It was the King who took captivity captive (Eph. 4:8). It was the King who freed us from the bondage of Sin and death and took us to himself so that we are now his slaves (Rom. 6:18). As Bob Dylan said, “You have to serve somebody. It may be the Devil or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.”
Another fact is that if we believe in Jesus the Christ, the Lord, the Savior, we have been transferred from death to life. We have been transferred to life. We have been adopted into God’s family, we have been redeemed. We have been purchases. We have been set free. We were lost, now we’re found. We were dead (Eph. 2:1), now we’ve been raised to new life.
The facts are wooden. Simply facts, just sitting there staring at us. But we are human beings. Another fact in all of this is that God loves us and sent his only son to die for us, and killed by us, and done when were still enemies, hating and being hated. If the realization of that doesn’t grip you, if it doesn’t thrill you, if it doesn’t make you want to jump up and run around the room, there’s something wrong somewhere.
One of the reasons we don’t get all emotionally worked up about this great deliverance is because we don’t believe we were really enslaved to sin. Or if we do, we don’t understand how terrible, how awful, how horrendous it was to be in bondage to something that hated us with a passion. If we did, we would appreciate the rescue, we could say with the Psalmist, “Your steadfast kindness is better than life (Ps. 63:3).
Another thing missing is that we don’t read our Bibles with an eye to how much and in what way God really loves us. Sure, we’re slaves, but we are slaves who belong to the creator of the universe, who has adopted us, has given us a place at his table, has made us members of his beloved son’s body. We share in the Trinity! We are Christ’s body, we are filled with, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. He lives in us.
When we really believe the facts and have given ourselves over to God with every fiber of our being, everything changes. I’ve been talking about facts, things true whether we act on them or not. But we can act on truth. Not only can we, but God says because we believe that Jesus is the Christ, we will love God. And when we love God we will love our fellow believers. How do we know what love is? John said that love was obeying God’s commands. The psalms are full of the love of God tied to obeying what he has commanded (Ps. 63; 119). If we love we want to please the beloved. That’s how God has made the universe. We see it all around us all the time. Look at newly weds. Look at godly couples who have been cultivating love for years and years and years. When you love someone, it is your greatest desire to serve them, to make their life more comfortable, to lift them up, to exalt them, to make them glorious. And this is no different than how we treat God, if we believe all that he has done for us because he loves us.
Conclusion Obedience (not burdensome):
John said that God’s commandments are not burdensome. Burdensome means hard, difficult, problematic, demanding, rigorous, and/or oppressive. John says God’s commands are not these things. But when he tells us to love that husband who constantly belittles us, what are we to do? What are we supposed to do when our wife burns our toast for the 50th time this year? What about those parents who just don’t get it? And don’t forget that boss who has it in for me? Or don’t you know how much pain I’m in? Don’t you get it that God is missing, he has abandoned me, he doesn’t understand! How can I obey, when I am in such trouble. How can I obey when things are going so badly? How can I obey when to do so would be to let him (her) win? How can I obey when to do so would be to abandon myself? How can I do what God asks when I would die?
How can you not obey? His lovingkindness is better than life.
John says that if you believe God loves you and loves you so much that he let you kill his little boy, he will transform your life. You will rejoice, you will exult, you will praise, you will dance, you will leap, you will chase after him with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And when you are in that state of glorious love, doing what God asks you to do will be a joy. You will be begging him to tell you to do more. You will work with all your might to make him proud of you. You will live up to your name—Christian. His commands will not be burdensome because you are thrilled to death to be allowed to serve him at all. Faith in God does not leave any room for grumbling, bitterness, or any kind of ugliness. Gratitude, love, grace, mercy, and joy all produce grateful obedience.