Our world is filled with signs. There are Stop signs, Caution signs, and Road Construction signs. There are signs that tell you that you can’t smoke, you can’t park, and you have to wear shoes or you won’t be served. There are signs that make us form lines and signs that warn of consequences if we don’t obey the rules. There are instructions and rules posted on signs it seems just about everywhere. Whether you view these signs as helpful, (designed to protect and guide us), or as a blatant attempt to annoy you or steal your freedom, depends on your perspective.
One person may view a Road Work Ahead Sign as a warning that keeps them from danger. Another person views that same sign as an intrusion and a deliberate attempt to steal their ability to enjoy life.
This morning as we look at 1 John 5:1-5 John is going to take this reality about perspective and apply it to our relationship with God. In our text, the John is continuing to help us understand how to be sure of our salvation and what true (or real deal) Christianity is all about. John once again gives us the three tests of a true believer,
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.
Note the three tests,
- A belief and surrender to Jesus as God become man who is our way of salvation
- Increasing love for God and for others
- Obedience to God’s commands
Let me reiterate again that these things are not the way TO be saved; they are the evidence that we ARE saved. The only way TO be saved is through God’s grace. We must be transformed by Him through the faith that we place in Jesus Christ.
Why repeat these things again? It’s because the risk of a counterfeit Christianity is so strong. There are people who are naturally compassionate (just like those who are naturally sour). It is part of their personality. There are those who are naturally rule-keepers (just like there are natural rebels). Still others are naturally academic and quick to believe (just as there are others who seem to be natural skeptics). We are not saved by our personality! We are saved by the work of God inside of us. The evidence that we are a child of God is that we see ALL THREE of these things in our lives.
In these first five verses of 1 John 5 John emphasizes obedience.
3This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome
OBEDIENCE IS NOT A BURDEN
The first thing John says is, “we are to obey God, and his commands are not burdensome”.
Suppose you are traveling to the home of a friend you had never visited before. Your friend has given you detailed directions on how to get to his home. As you are traveling you tell your spouse that you don’t need the directions. You say, “I think I know a short cut”. Even though your spouse protests and says it is a foolish move, you go your own way. An hour later you are hopelessly lost. And you say, “This was a stupid idea to come see this friend anyway. I never really liked them and I don’t think they ever really liked us.”
What is your spouse going to say? Most likely your spouse will indicate that you are a fool. You disregarded the directions and now you want to blame the one who gave those directions to you.
This is the way it is with God’s commands. He has given his commands to help us find the life we were created to live. Obeying God’s commands are not a burden; it is the smart thing to do. If we ignore them we ought not to blame Him for the consequences we face in our lives.
However, saying God’s commands are not burdensome is not the same as saying obedience is easy. We live in a world that does it’s best to prevent us from glorifying God. John has already warned us, “For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father, but from the world.” (1 John 2:15)
The world makes obedience difficult because it is largely counter-Christian.
- The world entices us with power; the Bible calls us to servanthood
- The world calls us to get more stuff and implies that if your stuff is not as good as my stuff, then you are less significant or successful than I am. God tells us to lay up treasures in Heaven.
- The world tells us to evaluate relationships on the basis of what you can get from that relationship; God calls us to look at what we can give.
- The world encourages us to indulge our appetites (for sex, food, power, prestige and other indulgences) God tells us to control our appetites and be good stewards of what we have received.
- The world tells us we can make the world better on our own; God says, “You’ve got to be kidding”.
The non-believer views God’s commands and His authority as a threat to his self-proclaimed freedom. To such people, God’s commands hinder their chosen lifestyle and become a constant source of irritation. This is why Christians are called bigots, extremists, narrow-minded. Non-believers hate the idea of being subject to God’s authority. They will rebel against God and those who serve Him.
But it is not only the world that makes obedience difficult. If the problem was just the world around us, we could go live like the monks and the Amish and simply isolate ourselves from the world and we would be fine. The problem is deeper. It lies within us. Our problem is not merely sins (sinful acts): it is SIN (or a sinful nature). In order to follow the Lord we must battle our own appetites, desires and lusts. We want more stuff. We crave pleasure. We are tempted by the sin dangled in front of us.
We are also hindered in our obedience by our own laziness. It is always more difficult to paddle upstream. We don’t want to make the tough choices. We don’t want to put off something pleasant now for something better in the future. We want to embrace the illusion that we can “have it all”. We can’t.
HOW TO OVERCOME THE WORLD
If obeying God’s commands is the wise way to live, how do we gain victory over the world that continually makes this difficult? John says,
4for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. [1 John 5:4,5]
John gives us two answers. First, we must understand our position in Christ. John says that everyone born of God overcomes the world. John wants us to understand that because we are part of God’s family, we have already overcome the world.
Suppose you have served in the military and finish your time and are discharged. Your service is over. You are now a civilian. Now, as you walk past a ranking officer, do you still need to salute or “drop and give him 20”? You did at one time, but you don’t have to any longer because you have been released from service. You are no longer under that person’s authority. Your change in status has set you free.
Apply this in the spiritual realm. When we put our trust in Christ we were set free from the bondage of sin. If you will, we are discharged from Satan’s service. Jesus paid the price for our freedom by giving His life as a payment for our sin. When we put our faith in Jesus we are given our discharge papers and are no longer slaves to the world of sin and death. We no longer have to salute or take orders from the world. The world can order us around all it wants, but it has no authority over us unless we grant that authority. John says we need to live as the victorious and free people we are.
Second, we must exercise (or live) by faith. John says the victory that overcomes the world is our faith. Faith is standing on the truth and promises of God. Faith is learning to think God’s thoughts. That means several things.
First, We must trust God’s Judgment over our own. Faith means recognizing that God has a wisdom superior to our own. He sees what we do not. He knows where certain choices will lead us. Our judgment is faulty. His is perfect.
We trust the judgment of others all the time,
- We take the advice of a Doctor
- We listen to a parent (even though we may not want to)
- We do what the policeman or fireman tells us
- We do what a coach asks
- We take the advice of a financial advisor
- We believe what the repairman says
- We follow the instructions of our boss
- We entrust ourselves to a counselor
In each case, we are deferring to one who has more knowledge than we do. It is a wise move. Living by faith involves recognizing that God is the expert on life. He knows how we were created to live. He knows what will lead to the greatest fulfillment in life. He knows where true joy comes from. Faith is deferring to God’s judgment and wisdom.
Second, living by faith means refusing to allow our struggles to defeat us. Romans 7 reminds us that there is a battle going on inside of us. The person we used to be and the person we now are in Christ will do battle. Temptation will come. There may be times when our minds are filled with the lusts of the world. There may be times when our sense of contentment in Christ is disrupted and we find ourselves craving the things of the world. We may slip back into the gossip and slander so common in our society.
The faithful person is the one who gets back up after they stumble and fall. Satan would like nothing better than to beat us up with our failures. He will try to get us to doubt God’s love and our salvation because of our failures. We must not give in to this kind of thinking. We will stumble! Some will fall hard and bad! Some will fall publicly. However, our forgiveness is not anchored to our goodness but to His grace. When we fall we must gratefully grab hold of God’s mercy once again and get back up on our feet and try again. The faith that overcomes is the one that keeps getting up after a fall.
Third, we must look past the present to see what is not yet. In other words, we need to remind ourselves over and over that this life is not all there is. We must look past the present and see the big picture and keep that picture ever before us. Paul said,
I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained. [Philippians 3:12-16]
The key to faithful living is to keep our eyes on the goal. If we live simply for the moment we will never make any progress. We will wander aimlessly. For awhile it may seem like fun, but eventually we will wake up to find that we are empty and lost.
I became a much better student when I understood the goal of my classes. When I was in High School I thought every class was designed to fill my head with useless information. My only goal was to pass. I wanted to survive High School so that I could go out and do things that really mattered.
When I went to college I knew God had called me to ministry. I did great in my Bible classes and my church related studies. However, I continued to struggle in some of the general education classes because I didn’t see the point (I do now). I was a better student, but I was best in the classes where I clearly saw the goal.
When I went off to Graduate School I was extremely focused. I knew what I needed to learn and why I needed to learn it. It was no longer good enough to simply pass the class. I was no longer in school for the grade . . . I was there for the education. I regretted that I did not have that focus early on. I wish I was able to see the bigger picture much earlier.
Too many believers view the truth of God as useless information. We don’t have time for the things of God because we have better things to do. We are short-sighted and we don’t understand where God is trying to lead us. We don’t see that His commands are not designed simply to give us homework . . .they are designed to help us live the life we were created to live.
Let me give you some practical suggestions for becoming a person who sees God’s commands as positive rather than negative.
- Remind yourself of all those people in your life that you trust for guidance. Then ask this key question: “Am I willing to trust God in that same way?”
- Be aware of the influence of the world on your life. Refuse to simply follow the crowd. Determine to make your own choices based on God’s Word.
- Convince yourself that you cannot combat he world without the battle plan of the Lord. Read your Bible looking for life principles rather than just information to learn. Learn to ask, “What information does God want me to have?”
- Get involved in a small group where you can examine and apply the Scriptures more fully.
- Begin a regular Bible reading program. Read not with an eye on the clock or calendar . . . listen to the instruction of the Lord. (In other words, if your one year Bible reading plan takes 3 years . . . so what?)
- View obedience as an adventure rather than a requirement. Eagerly look forward to seeing the wisdom of God’s ways.
Let me be straight with you. If you are having trouble doing what God wants you to do, you need to ask yourself if you are truly a follower of Christ, or only someone standing on the fringe. If you resist His commands or feel the need to explain them away, you need to repent. We cannot declare that Jesus is Lord and not desire to obey Him. God has given us His directions for how to get the most out of this life . . . and the next. He has, if you will, given us a bunch of signs that direct us to our eternal home. Whether you view those signs as burdensome or delightful may well indicate whether you are part of His family or not.