Blessed in the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked nor stands in the way of sinners nor sits in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord and on His law he meditates day and night. The psalmist instructs us, so we pray, Lord, that it would be so of us. Speak, O Lord, give us ears to hear, that we might meditate upon Your law and it would be sweet to our taste. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
Our text this morning is 1 John chapter 5, the very back of your Bibles. 3 Johns, Jude and Revelation. 1 John chapter 5. I’ll be reading verses 1 through 5 this morning. I encourage you to come back this evening for verses 6 through 12 as I will continue with this series. 1 John 5, reading the first paragraph.
“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?”
I wonder how many of you have heard of the Mandela effect. I know some of you have. This is the name that is given to the phenomenon, which there are various explanations for, when a mass group of people seem to have a false memory. It’s called the Mandela effect because supposedly a number of people “remembered” quote/unquote that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s when in fact he did not die in prison. He was released, became president of South Africa, died in 2013, and yet some people say, “No, I remember. Didn’t he die in prison?” So this effect of having many people seemingly mis-remember something has been called the Mandela effect.
You can look up later, don’t do it now on your phones, there are all sorts of examples of these. Sometimes these that are historical events, often they’re spellings or words or sayings or famous lines from movies that we all think we heard one way and they are really different. The Berenstain Bears, that’s the classic one. Think of those books you may have read to your kids, or I grew up with them. Berenstain. How do you see that? Well, it’s spelled at the end s-t-a-i-n. What? The Berenstein/stain bears?
Oscar Meyer, the sandwich meat. O-s-c-a-r M-a-y-e-r, not M-e-y-e-r.
Or how about this one, which I knew those but just this week, Double Stuf Oreos. If you’ve got them at home, God bless you, I respect that. The “Stuf” has only one F. What?
Kit Kat has no hyphen. Curious George has no tail. Darth Vader never said, “Luke, I am your father.” He didn’t. He said, “No, I am your father.” Casablanca never had the line “Play it again, Sam.” Look it up. Forrest Gump did not say, “Life is like a box of chocolates,” he said “Life was like a box of chocolates.” It never says in Field of Dreams “If you build it, they will come,” it says “If you build it, he will come.” Captain Kirk never said, “Beam me up, Scotty.” Dorothy said, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” And in the movie it never says in Snow White, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall” but “Magic mirror on the wall.”
Have I done enough to blow your mind? Febreze has only one “e” in the middle. Froot Loops, again I hope you have them in your cupboard, the “fruit” is spelled F-r-o-o-t. C3PO has one silver leg. And here’s the one if you grew up like I did in the 80s and 90s that I still, I just, I don’t believe this, the comic actor Sinbad never starred in a genie moved called Shazam. There are all sorts of Shazam truthers out there who will swear to you they say this movie in old-fashioned VHS called Shazam. No, there was a movie called Kazaam with Shaquille O’Neal. It was nominated for all sorts of Oscars, as you can imagine. It wasn’t; that would be the ultimate Mandela effect to remember that.
So there are many more of these examples, and as you can hear, many of these are simply things that we never looked at carefully enough. We didn’t look at the spelling or we repeated the line from the movie. We didn’t pay careful attention and that’s because our brain often expects things to be spelled a certain way, to look a certain way, and so we never notice when it’s out of the ordinary. Our brain has a hard time accepting what it does not expect to be there.
You’ve seen those things before where they will give you a paragraph to read, especially if English is your first language, they’ll give you a paragraph to read and it’s missing all sorts of letters, or it’s missing all the vowels, and still you can read it without very much difficulty because your brain fills in the blanks, your brain is used to it.
Well, when there’s something that’s different or surprising, your brain has a hard time accepting it, or it thinks it’s saying one thing when it’s saying another.
There are three spots, three particular lines, or in some instances phrases or words, in this paragraph in 1 John, it’s not the Mandela effect exactly, but they’re surprising. If we don’t slow down to look at them, you may not have noticed them before, or you may have even remembered them incorrectly because there are other related truths that the Bible says, so when we come to these lines, your brain tends to hear it as the thing you’re already familiar with. There are three surprises that if we’re not careful, we will remember incorrectly or we will not even remember at all. I want you to notice three surprising statements in 1 John 5:1-5.
Here’s the first one. Look at verse 2. The first surprise is that verse 2 seems to be backward: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments.”
Now you read by the quickly and because 1 John has said so many things like that we’re apt not to pay attention to it, or not to notice the order of it, because what we’re used to in 1 John is the argument that we have in verse 1: “Everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of Him.”
Well, we’ve seen that argument a number of times. If you love God, you love the people of God. If you love the Father, you love His children. So we’re apt to read verse 2 quickly as saying the same thing. It’s certainly getting at the same point, but notice the order. As opposed to verse 1, which says “if you love the Father, you love the children,” this one says, “Here’s how we know that we love the children, when we love God and obey His commandments.”
We’ve seen these three interlocking ideas throughout 1 John. For example, in chapter 2, verses 3 through 6, it’s all about obedience; verse 7 through 11, it’s about love; and 18 through 27, it’s about belief.
I think I first saw this in John Stott’s commentary, he always puts things so, he does it with his golden hammer, and you say, yes, those are the divinely inspired points to this passage. He says that there are three signs that John’s letter here is chiefly about assurance. How do we know that we are children of God? How do we know that we’re saved? We’ll come to that again in the last section next week. How do we know?
Now, listen, assurance does not mean, “How do we get justified? How do we get saved?” but rather what are three signs that tell us we’re driving down the right road and they’re telling you, yes, I’m heading the right road. Anyone who goes on a trip, you drive to the beach, you want to see that if suddenly you’re getting to mountains and suddenly you see Blue Ridge Parkway, well, you might get to the beach in several days. It’s a long ways away going in that direction. The signs tell you are you on the right road.
So there’s three of these signs in 1 John: A theological, a moral, and a social. So theological, what you believe about the Son of God; moral, that is do you obey the commands of God; and then social, do you love the people of God?
Again, this isn’t how you get saved, it’s not saying, “Love enough and then I will love you,” but it’s saying these are the signs: Love God, love the brothers, love His commands.
So we see all throughout 1 John these three things intermingled, and so we have it here in chapter 5. But we expect it to flow in one direction. We expect it to flow from the invisible to the visible. That is, how do you know you love God? God’s invisible. What’s a manifestation of that, because He’s invisible. Well, you look for visible signs – you love others, you love His children, and you obey His commandments. That’s moving from the invisible God to the visible. That makes sense – whoever loves the parent loves the child. But it’s also true, whoever loves the child, really, loves the parent.
So verse 1, the word, the ESV you see it says, “everyone who loves the Father.” Actually, the word “father” is not there. That’s the sense of it, but it says, “Whoever loves the One who has begotten,” or we might say, “Whoever loves the begetter loves the ones He has begotten.” If you love the Father, you’ll love His children. We all know that to be true. Don’t try to tell someone, “Well, I love you and then you hate my kids,” because there’s no one that a parent loves more than their own children. My children come from me, they belong to me, they’re like me, and so if you don’t care for them, how can you say, “Well, I really care for you.”
So if you love the parent, you love the child. We get it. But verse 2 tells us it goes in the other direction as well. If you love the children of God, you will love God and obey His commandments.
Think of a teacher who out of such care and discipleship and love for a student that she also takes an interest in the parent. How are the parents doing? What’s going on? How can I help you? That would be an example of showing how much she loves this student because she then loves the parents of this student. It goes in both directions.
So verse 2 surprises us to say here’s how you know, by this you will know when you love that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments.
Now you could take this as predictive, meaning if this one thing is true, the other things will be true. That’s part of it. But you also are meant to take this as a package, so you have love mentioned in verses 1, 2, and 3, you have faith in verses 1, 4, and 5, you have obeying in verses 2 and 3, and the points in this paragraph is that you are not getting one of those things right if you are not getting the other two things right.
Let’s dig in a little bit and try to explain what does this really mean for you in your life. Well, it means as you think about the brothers and sisters in this room and in your life, the children of God, you and I are not loving God’s people, His children, in the fullest best sense of the word if we aren’t also loving God and obeying His commandments.
Now why is that the case? Well, think about His commandments. Commands about anger, about forgiveness, about bearing one another’s burdens, about praying for one another, about the glory it is to overlook an offense, about having mercy, having compassion on one another. So you won’t really love the body of Christ if you’re not also obeying God’s commands.
One of the big ideas, and we’ve seen it in there sermons throughout this series, is that love in 1 John is not so much a feeling but a moral commitment. So we see here, you’ll know. So you say, “I love you so much.” Well, you’ll know that you love one another, that you love the brothers, that you love your fellow children of God, when you love God and you love His commandments. See, we’ve already seen in chapter 3, for example, don’t say you love God and then you hate His people and you won’t care for one another. But now we see that it moves also in this other direction.
So here’s where it perhaps gets pointed for many of us. I imagine almost everyone in this room has, or if you haven’t, you will at some time in your life, but most of us if we’re adults have had a conversation already. You had a conversation at some time with a friend, a relative, a classmate, a coworker, most painful a child, a grandchild, and that person said to you something like this: “If you love me, you will accept me for who I am.”
Now like almost every lie that the devil tells, there’s something that’s true. If it was so obvious, it wouldn’t be deceiving. There’s something that’s true. If I as a parent were just berating my children, they all have blue eyes because Trisha and I have blue eyes, and I said, “Why can’t you have green eyes? So disappointed in you.” And they said, “Why don’t you love me for the eyes that I have?” Okay, good point.
So there are certain things that to love someone is to accept that there are things about them the way they are. There’s an element of truth. The lie is that that sort of category, how tall you are or some aspects of your personality, then get totally moved over into a moral, into an ethical, category, to the decisions that you make. Too often issues of gender and sexuality. And not just things that, “Hey, I didn’t choose to wrestle with this and I’m wrestling with it,” okay, but “I now embrace it, I act upon it, I consider it good and right and if you really love me, you will accept me for who I am.”
This verse 2 powerfully reminds us that mere acceptance is not really love. Not according to the fullest biblical sense of the term. We cannot separate love for others from love for God and love for His commandments. Isn’t that what verse 2 says? By this we know we love the children of God.
So reverse it: If you don’t love God, if you don’t obey His commandments, then you’re not really loving one another. You may be saying what someone wants you to hear. You may be, in your own mind, just preserving a relationship, but that is not love as the Bible defines it. We cannot separate love for others from love for God and love for His commandments.
Sometimes what we’re really saying is “I love you so much that I have you in my heart even above God.” That’s not love. I love you so much and it comes from a real place of pain and especially a mommy or daddy’s heart. I love you so much I will find a way to set aside to redefine God’s commandments. Verse 2 tells us that’s not love either.
Love is a moral commitment. We have to love in such a way that God would be honored. We rightly love when God holds the place of uppermost affection and worship in our hearts and we love others so that God may have the same place and same priority in their hearts. It isn’t love when you, even out of a sense and feeling that may seem to be love to you, encourage people to do and embrace things that God does not love and do not put God as first place in their life.
Our world is massively confused on what love is. So verse 2 is surprising: “By this we know that we love the children of God.” You’re going around and you’re saying, “Well, I love my kids, I love my people, I love this body.” No, you only know that you’re really loving them, the world accepts people. You don’t think non-Christian parents love their kids? Or people on a sports team or some school… There’s lots of different ways to love people. But Spirit-given, Bible-driven love is this kind of love in verse 2 and you don’t love the children of God unless you love God and obey His commentators.
So that’s the first surprise. It seems backward, and don’t miss the order because it’s massively important.
Here’s the second surprise. Verse 3 seems unrealistic. That’s the surprise.
“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” Okay, that’s not surprising. We saw that, we read that earlier in the service from John. Jesus said that if you love Me, you obey My commitments. We’ve seen that throughout the book. But then he says, he has the audacity to say, “And His commandments are not burdensome.” Oh, really?
We don’t like commandments. We don’t generally like them from our parents, our teachers, our coaches, the government. Now I want you to hear all of the things you can and can’t do. Oh, goody. No, we don’t feel that.
More seriously you may say, well, but how does this square with Paul’s attitude? Romans 7, for example, he’s got all of this wrestling with the law and there’s others, you know, 2 Corinthians, he talks about the law as a ministry of death. Paul seems to experience the law as very burdensome, as oppressive, as a ministry of death in some sense.
Well, you have to remember that Paul is talking about his wrestling in the flesh, either as a non-Christian or just the remaining, indwelling sin, fleshliness in the human heart, that because we still wrestle with sinful desires, yes, that law of God does feel to us oppressive.
But is that the very nature of things? Careful. No. The law of God reflects God. It reflects the character of God. We should not say then that His law in and of itself is burdensome.
Remember David, and all throughout the psalter, the law of the Lord is my delight, I meditate on it day and night. David says it’s sweeter than honey.
Remember Jesus. We read it earlier in the service, Matthew 11. He said, “My yoke is easy. My burden is light.”
You say, well, wait a minute, Jesus. You also said I have to carry a cross. That’s true. You have to be willing to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. That’s the cross.
But remember Jesus elsewhere in the Gospels, the ones who tie up heavy, impossible burdens for you? He says those are the Pharisees and they don’t lift a finger to help you. They give you an impossible Christianity. (I didn’t even know this book was up there, but here it is, and it is somewhat the theme of that book, and if they still have copies, go get one, or we’ll get more.) It seems, however, unrealistic.
Let me ask you this question: Can Christians obey God and His commands?
A lot of us instinctively think surely the answer to that has to be no. It has to be no because filthy rags and I’m a sinner and my heart is desperate wicked and all…. No, no, if I could then I’d be earning my way to heaven. No.
But careful. You’re not going to find the Bible supporting the answer in that way. Can born-again Christians obey God and His commandments? Yes. So listen carefully. We focus on God, we relate to God, often solely as judge and never relate to Him as a father. So we only relate on this acts as judge, so I’m in or I’m out, I’m guilty or I’m not, justification. Yes, all that. We never take away from that, but if we only relate to Him as judge, it’s flat. Okay, I may be saved, I may be justified, I may be going to heaven sort of by the skin of my teeth, but I just grin and bear it and I know God’s not very happy with me most of the time and He looks on Jesus, “Okay, I gotta forgive you” and I’ll get to heaven someday, but the rest of this Christian thing is impossible and His commands are burdensome.
If you have believed that, you have a spiritual Mandela effect. You have mis-remembered how the Bible talks about Christian discipleship.
I’ve probably given this illustration before, but so many of us imagine a God who is a worse father than our own fathers, or a worse father than we are as fathers.
Just this week, various times, asked my son to mow the lawn. He did it. Takes a long time, we’ve got a big yard. My daughter, without asking, cleaned the bathroom. My boys were out in the hot son with rakes and shovels and especially if they get ahold of chainsaws and axes and dangerous things, clearing out all this brush from the yard and putting it in a wheelbarrow, hauling it off. Was I pleased with their participation and obedience? Of course I was. Did they do it all perfectly? Well, some of them, especially the bathroom, that was better than I could have done, I’m sure. Do they always do it as well as mom or dad could do? No. Is it as good as you might pay a professional to do it? No. It’s not perfect.
But what sort of father just, a very bad father who would just walk around with a child who promptly, sincerely obeys. You say, “That’s not good enough. I could have done it better myself. Took you 30 minutes. Should have taken you 25 minutes.” If you’re like that as a father, shame on you. If you think that’s what God, your heavenly Father is like, woe unto you. Because you don’t know what God is really like.
There are so many passages in the New Testament that talk about God being pleased with His children. You remember one of them back in chapter 3, verse 22, “Whatever we ask we receive from Him because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him.”
The good works of believers are never perfect in this life, not perfectly good, but truly good. Very simple, very helpful. Not perfectly good, but truly good.
In fact, one of my favorite theologians Francis Turretin, he distinguishes and breaks it down even farther. He asks the question, “Are believers able to attain to perfect obedience to the law?” And you might think the answer is obviously no, but leave it to Turretin. He says, well, let’s distinguish. He says are we talking about the perfection of sincerity? Yes. Christians can serve God with a whole heart. Or are we talking about the perfection of parts, meaning we can be sanctified in body and soul? Yes, we can. He says, “What about comparative perfection, that some believers might be more advanced than others?” He said that’s also true.
He says we’re not even talking about evangelical perfection, meaning that God in paternal forbearance perfects our work with His grace, that His mercy not only forgives our sins but gives to our good works a new shine. Turretin says no, that’s not what we’re talking about. In all of those species of perfection, you can actually have some kind of perfection.
But if we are talking about legal perfection, well, of course, the answer is no. We can never so scrupulously obey the divine law such that God would never have anything to accuse us. We do not merit God’s favor.
Yet, there is the possibility of good works. When believers do what God commands from a heart of faith for the glory of God, He is pleased with us. Romans 12:1, Colossians 1:10, 1 John 3:22. Especially among Reformed Presbyterian Christians, we sometimes think that if I am to be really Reformed, I got the five points, I got TULIP, let’s make it TULIPS, let’s put sin at the back, too. Let’s get another sin. We think that to be truly Reformed we must utterly denigrate everything we do as Christians.
Now, to be sure, we can never have that legal perfection, but here’s where these distinctions are helpful. Turretin says good works can be truly good without being perfectly good. Acting like holiness is out of reach for ordinary Christians does not do justice to the way the Bible speaks.
Think about Zachariah and Elizabeth, who were “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statues of the Lord.” I bet if somebody said, well, you should meet my friend, she walks blamelessly in the statutes of the Lord, you’d say unbiblical. Well, let’s be careful. Let’s define what we mean because there’s a way that that’s eminently biblical.
Job. Didn’t the Lord say “consider Job,” quote “a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.”
The point is if we think that the only kind of obedient that pleases God is legal absolute perfection, then yes, God’s commands will seem impossible and irksome, as if every day God is saying “I want you to do something, ha ha ha, you can’t do it.”
Of course you’d come to the end of yourself and every day we fall short and every day the law does lead us back, Christ, have mercy.
But think about it. Paul frequently commends his churches for their obedience and their godly example. Jesus teaches, Matthew 7, be like the person, the wise man, who builds his house on the rock. He’s the one who hears the words of Jesus and does them. James says the same thing – be the person who is a hearer and a doer of the Word.
There is no hint that obedience is only a hypothetical category for the Christian. Quite the contrary. Does not the Great Commission tell us to disciple the nations and teach them to obey everything Jesus has commanded. There is no asterisk there that says, “P.S., by the way, you can’t really obey anything Jesus commanded.”
Now again, I’m adding all, I hope, the necessary caveats and qualifications lest you leave here discouraged, thinking, “Well, now, Pastor said that I got to obey all the commandments or I’m not a Christian.” Not at all. What I’m saying is many of you have not even given yourself permission that you might be an obedient Christian, and we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s the pinnacle of real piety to denigrate everything we ever do, ignoring the more than a dozen times in the Bible where it says God is pleased with us, pleased with us. Do you have a heavenly Father? Yes, you’re justified, you know that. You’re going to heaven, praise God. Jesus forgave you of your sins. Yes. But do you have a relationship with the heavenly Father whoever smiles upon you? Who is ever pleased with your sincere though imperfect, heartfelt obedience?
Of course, my children don’t have to earn their way into our household. I love them because they’re my children. But can they do things that make me displeased? Yes. And can they do things promptly, sincerely, make me smile? Why would our heavenly Father be different?
Christians can be rich in good works. Christians can walk in a way worthy of our calling. Westminster Confession 16:6 says God looks upon our good works in His Son “and is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.” That’s all I’ve been trying to say is what the Confession said so well. God in His Son is pleased to accept and reward that sincere obedience even though it is always mingled with weakness and imperfection. All of this is to help us not skip over the end of verse 3 and really believe what the Word of God tells us, that His commandments are not burdensome. They’re for our good. They reflect the character of God and born again by the Spirit of God, you can obey them.
Finally, here’s the third surprise. Verse 4 seems over the top. “And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”
Shouldn’t it say “this is the victory that has overcome the world, Jesus Christ”? Victory in Jesus. I don’t even know if that’s in our hymnal. I grew up with a different hymnal and I think we must have had a Baptist picking a lot of our hymns on Sunday evening because we sang that, that was his favorite, and if we had a hymn sing, I put that up 473 or something, “Oh, victory in Jesus.” They’re great songs. You can also roller skate to a lot of them. Really good.
Victory in Jesus. Shouldn’t that be what verse 4 says? This is our victory, this is… Jesus. Well, that’s true. And it says that elsewhere. Or shouldn’t it say God or the Spirit? But it says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”
We’re going to close shortly with another one of those old 6/8 hymns, in 6/8 time. Faith is the victory, and that is undeniably biblical. That’s what verse 4 tells us. It’s the only time in John’s writing, John talks about faith, pistalo the verb, here’s the only time he uses this noun hepistis, our faith. He’s referring to it as… There’s what you believe but having faith. This is our faith, and it’s the victory.
The believer is an overcomer. John, who also wrote Revelation, we’re going to go there in a few weeks, that book is all about resisting the temptations of the world, to be an overcomer instead of a succumber. Think about the pressures that mount on you as a Christian.
Again, Stott says it very nicely. He mentions three kinds of pressures. Moral pressures, intellectual, and physical.
Moral pressures to compromise, to live according to your own feelings and desires.
Intellectual pressures to believe certain falsehoods or heresies.
Physical pressures, that is, physical persecution or loss of livelihood or job or promotion that might come your way.
These are the sort of ways that the world presses in on us. But we can be overcomers.
Three times in verses 4 and 5 he speaks of overcoming, victorious. The Bible is a big book and it talks about the Christian life in a lot of different ways. So there are some passages, in a different sense, that talk about the Christian life as one of weakness. That’s true. If by weakness we mean humility, dependence, reliance on God, lack of self-regard, lack of pomp, lack of impressive credentials, then the Christian life is a life of weakness.
But some Christians take that and say, well, it’s a life of failure, and the real Christian life is to just admit that I fail at everything, that I’m never spiritually any good, that I’m never really going to overcome my sins, but praise God, He tussles my head and says, “Well, I still love you anyway.”
No, that’s not what the Bible means by weakness. We need to deal with that, which is humility and lack of self-regard and reliance on Christ with passages like this, that says, no, you have victory. You’re more than conquerors.
Think about what this would have mean in the first century, with a massive, sprawling Roman Empire. No, the victory, the real conqueror is not in Rome. We might say the real power is not in D.C., it’s not in London, it’s not in Moscow, it’s not in Beijing. The victory is your faith. By faith we are victorious.
Think of Hebrews 11, a great hall of fame of faith. All of those who were commended through faith. That’s a shocking chapter, when you think about the sort of people who were mentioned. Of course, you have Moses, and he murdered somebody. You have Abraham, he didn’t have a very spotless record. He lied about a number of things, was greedy sometimes. You have Isaac, also lied. You have Jacob, he’s a trickster. Then you have some of the judges and Samson and others who have a very spotted record. It’s another sermon for another time, but I think Hebrews 11 gives us some insight on how we should view flawed heroes, because they had real flaws, and you can read the Old Testament and the Bible tells you about those flaws, and yet when Hebrews 11 comes along, it’s where you say, “But was their life mainly about?” Because there’s a life that’s mainly about wickedness and then there’s a life that’s mainly about something good and here’s all the flaws that you don’t overlook. So Hebrews 11 says they are all commended. Now is not the time in Hebrews 11 to give you the laundry list of everything that was wrong with them, but there’s plenty. Hebrews 11 is they’re commended, these very imperfect heroes and heroines are all commended.
You have to have heroes in life. You do. If you don’t have heroes, if you think you don’t have heroes, then you’re so cynical your heroes will be, well, I almost said the anti-hero. Sorry, Swifties, or whoever you are. You’ll find something. You’ll be cynical. You’ll find the anti-hero will be your hero.
We are wired to have somebody to look up to. Hebrews 11 tells us here are the heroes. It’s faith, because that’s what you can do. You may not be as strong as Samson, you might not be called to lead a people free like Moses, you may not slay a Goliath like David, but you can have the same faith they had. Faith is the victory.
Think about it for some of you, very tangibly at this moment in your life. You’re sad, you’re scared, you’re depressed, you’re discouraged. Victory at this point simply means you don’t throw in the towel. You don’t renounce God. You don’t turn your back on Christ. Faith, I still believe, that’s the victory.
The key to everything in this passage, all of these surprises, and really the key in this whole book, is that we have been born again, that we have been born of God. You see that in verse 1? Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. Again in verse 4, for everyone who has been born of God. This is what makes all of this possible. This is why everything we’ve been talking about this morning and in this series is not a pull yourself up by the bootstraps, meritorious, self-justifying, because we’re not talking about how to be born again, we’re talking about what life is like when you are born again.
So all of this here, the commandments are not burdensome. Faith is the victory. You love God, you love the brothers, you love God’s commandments… All of that, that’s not the cause of your regeneration, that is the consequence of your regeneration. The commandments of God.
This is why it’s dangerous, and I know, I understand, sometimes Christians say this and it’s meant as a kind of spirit of humility, “I don’t like a lot of what God tells me to do, but I do it.” I understand that if you don’t like it but you do it, that’s better than not doing it, so there’s something there. I’m going to mitigate against my own sense of things and still obey, so there’s something commendable. But friend, I hope you hear something that’s really off. You don’t want to stay there. “Well, God has all these commandments and I hate a bunch of them. A lot of things that God tells me, I don’t like at all.” Sometimes we say that to people and it’s a way of sort of, we don’t realize, it’s a way of sort of distancing ourself… Like “If I were God, you know, I don’t like what He says about marriage, I don’t like what He says about male leadership in the home or in the church, or I don’t like what He says about judgment. It’s a way of sort of saying well, “If I were God, I’d have some better rules. I’d have some better way of doing things. But I still obey it because I submit myself to God.”
No, the better heart attitude is yup, there are still some things in the Bible that I’m struggling with and I can’t quite feel about them like David does, sweeter than honey, but I want to get there because God gives me everything for my good, and I’m born again and His commands are not burdensome.
So this emphasis on being born again is both a warning and an encouragement. The warning is if you get through this whole book, or even these five verses, and you say, “Well, that doesn’t look like me at all. I hate God’s commandments and I don’t do them and I don’t love others and I don’t love the children of God and all of His commandments feel completely irksome to me.” You ought to wonder – am I born again? So there’s a warning.
But even more than that this passage is here to be an encouragement, to tell you who you are. You’re in Christ, you have been changed. Yes, the change is stumbling, it’s imperfect, it’s full of temptation, and it’s struggle, but it’s there. It’s real, it’s heartfelt. It’s slower than you would like, but it’s discernible and your faith will be the victory. Don’t give up.
Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, and that, I hope, is most of you.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, that You for Your Word. Thank you for instructing us, for correcting us, for warning us, for encouraging us. Give us faith that wins the day. In Jesus our Lord. Amen.