We are following, as some of you know, the longest letter in the New Testament that has been written by the disciple called John. I noticed on the television this week that the Bible was being mocked because it was written apparently, said the speaker, by fishermen. I thought very carefully about this, and I could only really think of two writers among the 30-35 writers who were fishermen – but one of them was John. He has written 5 books in the New Testament, and we are looking at his longest letter.
I’ve called the section this morning Truth Brings Transformation and what I mean by that is Christ puts a new life into the believer. We are not just talking about a person who’s got good qualities. We are talking about any believer being given a new life through Christ.
Now we all do admire human qualities. If you know what it’s like to be very low and cast down and discouraged, sometimes you look at the person who is very buoyant and happy and wish you had their human qualities. Or perhaps you are very fearful, and you look at somebody is fearless and courageous and wish you had their human qualities. Or maybe you are confused about things and unsure, and you look at somebody who is really clear and sure, and you think I wish I had their abilities or their constitution or their qualities. We are not talking about human attributes. We are not even this morning talking about exceptional people; we are talking about the fact of the person that puts their trust in Christ will be given a brand new life, a transforming life.
Now this is available for every person, and I thought I would give you one example to begin which comes from military history, and it concerns a man called William Dobbie who became a Lieutenant-General. When he was a young man he says in his autobiography -‘ things were not right between God and me. I was unfit to stand before him, and my need for a Saviour was brought home to me. But Jesus Christ, the Son of God came into this world for the express purpose of giving his life so that he might bear and pay the penalty of my sin so that I might go free. And that night’ (and he was 14yrs old incidentally) ‘I accepted the Lord Jesus as my Saviour and my God, the turning point of my life’.
In World War 1 he was known as the Officer who would walk through the miles of trenches lifting the morale of his troops. He was also the Officer who sent the telegram at 11.00am on 11th of 11th to announce the end of World War 1. In World War II he was sent to be the Governor of Malta in the Mediterranean which became the most bombed place on the earth (three raids a day) and his prayerfulness and his godliness and his courage blessed and inspired and encouraged the whole of the island.
I want to mention two illustrations or indications; however from his life that he was transformed by Christ, but he was not just a great man.
Between the wars in 1929 William Dobbie was put in charge of keeping peace in Palestine. His battalion was stationed in a place that they found to be opposite Calvary. There is a particular hill which looks like a skull which has been identified as Golgotha. His troops were all given a New Testament, and Dobbie wrote a paragraph to go inside each New Testament, and this is what it said:
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“You are stationed at the place where the central event in human history occurred, namely the crucifixion of the Son of God. You may see the place where this happened, and you may read the details in this book. As you do this, you cannot help being interested, but your interest will change into something far deeper when you realise the event concerns you personally. It was for your sake that the Son of God died on the cross here. The realisation of this fact cannot but produce a radical change in one’s life, and the study of this book will under God’s guidance help you to such a realisation.”
At the end of his life when he was 85 yrs old, he wrote these words: “Vital and uninterrupted contact with our Heavenly Father is the most wonderful thing in the world”.
What Dobbie is echoing is what John, the writer, is saying to us in his letter. To have fellowship with God, to have a profound and real peace producing, life-changing, strength supporting relationship fellowship with God is the most wonderful thing in the world, and it’s the only relationship which will outlast the world.
So let’s look at our section this morning which is 1 John chapter 2, verses 1-14. I have divided it into two points. The first I’ve called The reason we can have fellowship with God and the second I’ve called Signs that we do have fellowship with God.
Now friends completely unrelated to this I was talking with a lady after the 8.00 o’clock service this morning, and I invited her to come to Christianity Explained Course, and she said ‘I would like to do that’. Because she said, I feel as though I’ve just been hanging around the fringes. She said ‘I understand all the things like the ritual and I understand the bits and pieces that go with Easter and Christmas, but I feel as though I am just hanging around the fringes’.
So I hope she will come and I hope she will hear and I hope she will believe and I hope she will have a brand new life, a transformed life.
Let’s think for a minute about the reason we can have fellowship with God. Look at chapter 2 verse 1; this is how John describes his readers – ‘my dear children’. He is speaking to them as Christians. He is something of a spiritual father to them. Maybe he helped them to believe in Christ.
Now if you were here last Sunday, we were looking at the section last Sunday where John addresses pretenders, fakers. He says in chapter 1 verse 6 “If we claim, but we don’t actually have the life” and in verse 8 “if we claim but we don’t actually live the life” or in verse 10 “if we claim, but we’re just pretending” then we have no fellowship with God. Last week he was talking to unbelievers or talking about unbelievers or talking about pretenders, and he was challenging them.
This week he’s talking to believers, and he is bringing comfort. He’s not pretending in these early verses that the believers are perfect, but he knows that they can be pardoned and he knows they have been forgiven and he knows they have been permanently absolved. That’s what gives him great joy.
Now in these first two verses, he explains something which is the secret of fellowship with God or the grounds of fellowship with God or the key to fellowship with God and friends this is not the morning to doze off because the unbeliever doesn’t understand this and the believer preaching or sitting does not properly appreciate this. So let’s see what John is talking about. How is it possible to have fellowship with God?
The first thing you’ll see in chapter 2 verse 1 is that Jesus is the righteous one. He is the righteous one. He is the only righteous one. He is the only person who is qualified for glory. And we should draw the obvious conclusion, if he is the one righteous person, it’s not me. Isn’t it funny how people will say, even the complete pagan will say, well there’s only one perfect person, and that’s Jesus, and they don’t draw the second conclusion – I am not. They are just as happy as if to say “He did it”. Well great – I didn’t – but they don’t actually draw the serious conclusion that they are not righteous. He’s the only one.
The second thing in verse 2 tells us that he is, however, the atoning sacrifice. He is the rescuing sacrifice. He’s the problem-solving sacrifice for our sins. Now the reason that this is so wonderful because he’s solved the biggest problem of sin. What is the biggest challenge of sin? It’s not social. It’s not that sin causes fights and wars. Those things are dreadful, but they are not the biggest problem of sin.
The biggest problem of sin is NOT that it brings for us guilt and sadness. It does eventually bring guilt and sadness, but that’s not the biggest problem. The biggest challenge of sin has to do with God. The biggest problem of sin is that God is moving towards sin like a perfect army and he will deal with it because he is a God you see of great justice.
The Bible tells us, the whole Bible tells us that God is so good that he hates and he opposes, and he punishes sin. I know some people think the anger of God, the wrath of God is an embarrassing subject – I think we should be much more embarrassed and we should be much more ashamed at inventing a god who’s so careless about sin and so spineless about sin that he doesn’t do anything about it. No, the Bible tells us that God is not careless and spineless, but he will punish sin and thank God he hates evil more than we do and especially thank God that he’s found a way that people like us who have fallen into evil and done evil and Jesus says ‘are evil’ can have a way of escape.
Now the solution, the way of escape is Christ’s sacrifice. When Jesus died on the cross, when he was crucified, he provided an atoning sacrifice. That is it was a problem-solving sacrifice – a rescue making sacrifice – a justice taking sacrifice – anger of God quenching sacrifice – guilt removing sacrifice – a fellowship fixing sacrifice.
And therefore you can look in your mind to Calvary, and you can see the bomb of God’s justice fell on Jesus and he absorbed it. The bomb that should have dropped on me and should have fallen on you fell on him, and when he died on the cross he solved the problem of God’s wrath, and he solved the problem of my and your guilt.
It does amaze me that it is considered in our city unforgettable to treat the sacrifice of those who fought in World War 1 & II as nothing and it is a despicable thing isn’t it to consider that what men and women went through in World War 1 & II for the good of this country and the wider world – to think of it as nothing is a despicable thing. And yet when the same people of this country will turn their mind, if they do, to the sacrifice of the Son of God, suffering judgment to produce salvation, it’s dismissed as nothing. To be ungrateful for those who fought in World War 1 & II would seem to me to be a dreadful thing. To be ungrateful for what the Son of God has done must be even more dreadful.
You’ll notice the third thing in chapter 2 verse 1 is that Jesus who is now in heaven speaks to God the Father in defence of the Christian. Notice this extraordinary phrase “we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence”. Now those of you who are fathers – how many of your children have to have a barrister for your children to meet you? How many of us have heard of a child saying ‘yeh I’m heading home this afternoon, I’m just picking up my barrister on the way home so that I can face my dad’! What a remarkable thing.
But God, you see, is not only the heavenly father for the believer, but is also the perfect judge and what we discover in this remarkable verse is that we are able to have the best fellowship with God the Father, and we are even able to have the best fellowship with God the Judge because Jesus who died on the cross and fixed the fellowship continues to remind the judge of heaven that all our sins, past, present and future have been paid for.
So here is the Christian, the Christian has put his trust in Jesus, and he’s wonderfully forgiven – forever forgiven. But then he falls and fails and sins. There’s a kind of a cloud which has come into the fellowship with him, and his heavenly father and there is the Lord Jesus in heaven acting as a barrister, an advocate for the Christian saying to God the Judge ‘I paid for that – what he just did,I paid for that’ – and the next minute ‘I paid for that’ and the next hour ‘I paid for that and here are the wounds, and he is the proof’.
So Jesus you see is not in heaven pleading that God would just be loving and sentimental. A lady said to me this week: ‘I believe that God just sweeps in under the carpet’. What a dreadful God that is! But Jesus doesn’t stand in heaven pleading that God would be kind. Jesus stands in heaven pleading justice – ‘I paid’ says Jesus. Therefore this person can continue to enjoy wonderful fellowship.
The fourth thing in verse 2 is this invitation for fellowship with God goes out to the whole world. You see that in verse 2 “and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world”. Now, this doesn’t mean that the death of the Lord Jesus brings automatic salvation to the world. That would be ridiculous. Fellowship with God is a two-way decision. There is no way God is (although he could easily do it) there is no way that God is steamrolling the world into fellowship. But here, you see, the invitation goes out to the whole world. It is a global invitation. And that means there must be a huge capacity in the death of Jesus for forgiveness.
Now this really came home to me when I was reading the book I’ve written about in the Bulletin this week, and I’ve already quoted to you from it in the story of William Dobbie, and there are a few copies on the Bookstall. The last chapter is in some ways the most extraordinary chapter in the book because it tells the story of an American pastor called Henry Gorrech who was a German-speaking man and was given the job at the end of World War II of being a Chaplain to Hitler’s No.3 down to 18. Hitler and Goebbels and one other Hess, I think, committed suicide but the next 15 who had done absolute atrocities were there in prison waiting for their execution and Henry Gorrech was given the job of being the Chaplain.
Can you imagine walking into the individual cells of these men who had ordered the deaths of tens and hundreds of thousands of people – what would you tell them?
The chapter is a remarkable chapter as he indicates which of the 15 were like steel and made no response and which of them were responsive, which of them had begun to read Bibles, which of them had begun to pray, which of them began to attend the Bible Study and which of them at the gallows as they were hung made their testimony of gratitude to Christ. It’s a remarkable chapter. And it almost seems to me and to us to be impossible that someone could be forgiven for such atrocity but the blood of Jesus, says the Scripture, cleanses from all sin and the offer is made to the world. Remarkable dimensions.
I want you to notice that as we look at verses 12-14, running ahead 12-14, that John is definitely writing to Christians. He says “I write to you, dear children” (verse 12). “I write to you, fathers” “I write to you, young men” (verse 13). Here are the different spiritual stages of the church and what John is saying to them – I’m writing to you who are young (you’ve come to know the forgiveness, that’s wonderful) – I’m writing to you who are old in the faith (you know the deep things of God), and I’m writing to you who are young men (middle-aged in the faith) because you are keen. He’s writing to transformed people.
In the end, you see, if he is not writing to transformed people, it’s impossible for him to ask what he’s about to ask which is to be faithful and to be loving. There’s no point in yelling at your garden hose to water the garden if it’s not joined to the tap. There is no point in yelling at a tree that’s been cut down to bear more fruit. It’s only if there is the joining that you can call on the hose to water the garden or the tree to bear the fruit.
That’s why the Ethics courses that are being debated at the moment in the City of Sydney. The Archbishop is absolutely right. It is pretty pointless to send into school people who will give ethical talks asking young people to produce goodness, faithfulness and obedience. What is desperately needed in the schools is the continued work of the Scripture Teachers who tell young people how to be joined to Christ from whom come the faithfulness and the goodness.
But of course the world doesn’t understand this, and so it gets angry with anybody who suggests that if a teacher goes in and starts teaching ethics that it won’t be useful. It won’t be useful. It will be completely arbitrary. But to go in with the good news of Jesus Christ and to see young people transformed and given a brand new life is the absolute gospel joy. That’s what John is on about.
Now the second thing this morning – there are two signs that we do have fellowship with God – or there are to marks or two fruits or two indicators that we do have fellowship with God. Look at chapter 2 verse 3. “We know that we have come to know him”. This is not secret information says John, this is open information. We know that we have come to know him (verse 3) if we obey his commands.
And what John is about to say in verses 3-6 is that one of the signs that you have come to new life in Jesus is that you are willing and keen to do his work. You see what he says in verse 5 “If anyone obeys his word then we know that we are in him and belong”. This doesn’t mean the believer comes to perfection. We are not a bunch of people pretending to be perfect. We confess, and we should mean it. It doesn’t mean that we have perfect obedience. We do not have perfect obedience – it means however that God has given us a new interest in his word and doing his word. You see (verse 3) his commands – (verse 4) his commands – (verse 5) his word.
God has given the believer a new interest in the word and a new willingness, a desire, an eagerness, an inward enthusiasm to do the word. You know when you see someone who starts a romance – and when they start a romance, they are suddenly very interested in what the other person thinks, what they are saying, what they are wanting. And here says John, one of the marks of knowing Jesus Christ is being in a romance with Jesus Christ is that you want to know what he says and you have a new enthusiasm for doing it.
So here is the first of John’s checks or tests to see whether you have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Do you have an interest in the word of Jesus Christ? Do you have a desire to do it?
There’s nothing more difficult in Ministry than getting somebody who is still spiritually dead to be interested in the Bible. If a person is not interested in the Bible, they are spiritually dead. If they don’t want to do, if there’s no willingness to do what’s in the Bible, they are probably spiritually dead. But when they come to put their faith in Christ and a new life starts surging through them, they want a Bible, they want to know what the preacher is saying, and they want, in some measure, to do what the word says.
Now the world is full of little tests for how to check yourself. You can check your temperature. You can check your blood pressure. You can do small tests to work out whether you have diabetes or whether you are pregnant.
Here is a simple test, says John, do you have a new willingness to do the word of God? The learning of course of the Bible is still going to be a struggle, and the doing of the word of God is always going to be a struggle, but you’ve come to the point where you can no longer live your life ignoring the word of God. You can no longer live your life disobeying the word of God. It’s a sign that you have a new life and you are in fellowship with Christ. You’ve come to your senses. You’ve come to your knees. You are not like the church attendee I was told about this week who picks and chooses from the Bible and decides what they will obey and what they won’t obey.
Now John’s Test Kit for that sort of person would be that they are not alive yet. They haven’t come to faith in Christ. But how comforting that God’s love is in you when you have a new love for his word, and you have a new love for his will. That’s the first test for yourself. Do you have an interest in knowing and doing the word of God?
The second test, says John, is from verse 7 and following. It the test of whether you love God’s family. Doing God’s word is the first test; loving God’s family is the second test. He says in verse 7 – this is not a new message – it goes back to the Old Testament to love the other believer – it goes back to the Lord’s Supper “A new Commandment I give to you” says Jesus “that you love one another”, but in verse 8 it is new in the sense that it always needs to be said again and he says it’s been clearly seen in believers that they love one another.
So, John, you see, when he says ‘love one another’ he says its happening. Now, this is a good test to take because if you are part of God’s kingdom which means you are in the light, you just cannot settle down and hate your brother. If you are not part of God’s kingdom and you are in the darkness, well you can hate the Christian, you can ignore the Christian, you can avoid the Christian, and you can despise the Christian.
The test is not what you say, but the test is what you do. Lloyd-Jones says in his commentary “all the talk in the world matters little if you hate your brother”.
A real believer, you see, can’t settle down in animosity towards a believer. A real believer has a desire to forgive, to pray for, to be patient towards, to be kind towards, and to be if possible in fellowship with every believer. It’s impossible if you are in the light you see to go around plotting and slandering and avenging yourself if God’s love is in your heart.
And you’ll notice the danger is not just that you are in spiritual darkness but (verse 11) the darkness is in you. So ask yourself whether God has put a new love in your heart for believers, for the welfare of believers. The love that God puts in the heart of believers is not a “getting love” that’s natural, but the new love that God puts in the believer is a “giving love, it’s a serving love”.
Jesus didn’t collect his 12 disciples and say to them – what can you do for me? He didn’t collect his 12 disciples and say – I’ll stick with you if you are easy – I’ll stick with you if you are fun. That is the absolute opposite of Jesus’ love for the disciples. No, Jesus gave himself to his disciples.
John isn’t teaching of course that this is easy and it’s not even that Christian people are great at loving one another. It’s not as though we just natural fountains of love for one another. We are not that good at it but one of the signs that you have come to know Christ, one of the signs that you have been transformed, you have been converted is that you have got a new love for the people of Christ, a new love for the family of God, a new desire to serve the family of God.
That’s why the person who says (and you hear this so often don’t you) “you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian”. That person might just as well wave a big flag that says ‘I don’t understand Christianity’. You might as well say ‘you know, I don’t have to talk to my spouse, I don’t have to spend time with my kids, I don’t have to go to Christmas Lunch with my family, no sir I don’t have to’. Something odd is happening when you talk like that. And when a person says ‘I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian’ something strange is going on. When there is a new life, a transformed life, the person finds ‘I want to serve as I’ve been served. I want to be patient as I’ve received patience. I want to be kind as I’ve received kindness’.
Well many of us have been loved into the kingdom. I think I was loved through the door of the church, and then I was taught the gospel as I sat, but I praise God for the people who loved me in as well as the men who taught me. I praise God for the many in this church who in a hundred ways love and look after one another and when I discover that somebody who has moved on, gone from the church and is now in a different city is still being prayed for and is still being rung up and is still being written to by various members of the church,I just praise God for the loving people that God has given to us in this church.
We need to work at this at St Thomas’ because is there any problem that we have at St Thomas’ like the fact that we are a regional church. Is there any more significant challenge for us than it is so easy to come, sit and go? We may not fault the music. We may not often fault what goes on Sunday between 10.00 & 11.00am, but again and again and again the challenge for us is to do more than just come, sit and go.
Somehow we have to use the opportunities we have for the conversations afterwards. Make the sacrifice of the Morning Tea to look for people and to befriend them and to love them and to listen to them and to pray with them because I tell you if we end up with a group of people that just come, sit and go we’ll just be a church that’s kind of half a church – we’ll just be half disciples.
John is asking the question – has God given you a transformed life causing you to have a new desire to do his will and have a new desire to love his people?
Well remember the reason that a person can have fellowship with God – it’s because of the sacrifice of the righteous one, Jesus Christ. And remember there are two signs of having fellowship with God – one is a new desire to do God’s word and another is a new desire to love God’s family.
Now friends, if the signs are not there, you have no great interest in the word of God, and you have no great love for the people of God – go back to square one and work out what did Christ come to do because what Christ came to do is meant to transform you. Come to Christianity Explained and get the Essentials which will transform you and point you to the way of eternal life.
If the signs, however, are there, you’ve got a new desire to do the will of God, and you’ve got a new love for the people of God, give thanks, and give thanks because God has done the transforming work. He’s made you one of his children. He’s made you one of his dear children. He is at work working through you. May he do so more and more.
Let’s bow our heads and pray. Loving Father we give you our thanks this morning for the coming of the righteous one and the dying of the righteous one so that through his death we might have new life.
There are so many of us this morning who thank you for a new life which has come so freely to us and has changed us so that we have some desire for your will and some love for your people. We pray that you would increase that more and more.
We also pray, our Father, for those who have not yet trusted Christ and who are running out of time. We pray that you would in your mercy and power give to them a grasp and a trust and a transformation which shows itself in a brand new eternal life.
We ask these things in Jesus’ Name – Amen.