Sermon June 2, 2013: Three tests to evaluate if we truly lead a Christian life

Posted in Sermons
[Gregory Bishop (right) with Jonatan Toledo]
  • Presenter: Gregory Bishop
  • Date: June 2, 2013
  • Location: Congregación León de Judá, Boston MA

First John is a letter that deals with what it means to be an authentic Christian. It's written to a community of early Christians that were being bombarded by people who had adopted a false version of christianity.

They were extremely tempted and pressured to adopt and change it to make it more acceptable to the society in which they lived and this letter is all about what it means to be genuine, what it means to be an authentic Christian and hold on to that and whether the signs that we can read or the test that we can do to evaluate if we've got the genuine article or something false in counter effect.

Now the English ministry is just forming in this church in these years and I believe God is wanting us to stand on a genuine and fond foundation. If the foundation is wrong everything else will be skewed out of whack and so God is calling us to start right. But I think God also wants us to speak to our Congregation as a whole. We are at a time of transition as we prepare to move to that new building, a time of evangelism and growth and incredible new vision as a Church.

A while ago Pastor Sam preached about the community of Israel when they passed the Jordan River to conquer the land and God called the people to consecrate themselves before this transition in this new beginning. So as we go into the new things God has for us let's be sure we are for real, let's be sure the Gospel we are preaching is the real Gospel, the real Jesus and that we are living it out in a real and sincere way. People around the world are looking for authenticity.

Even if we need to give a message that is not popular if people can sense that you are genuine and there is integrity it is attractive. Even if they are offended they are drawn. People want something real and so that's what we are talking about today.

So at First John chapter 5 and verse 13 here we see the purpose for which this letter was written. He says: "I write these things to you who believe in the Name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." He's writing not to unbelievers in this letter but to believers so that you can know you are for real. Then he goes and says: "This is the confidence we have in approaching God, that if we ask anything according to His Will He hears us and if we know that He hears us whatever we ask, we know that we have what we ask of Him."

"Now if anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death, there is a sin that leads to death, I'm not saying that he should pray about that. All wrong doing is sin and there is sin that does not lead to death."

"We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin, the one who is born of God keeps himself safe and the evil cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know He who is true and we are in Him who is true even in His Son Jesus Christ, He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols."

God I pray in the name of Jesus that as we reflect on this text together that You may open us to a process of healing of the subtle ways that we have allowed idolatry to lead it's way into our faith. We wanna worship the true God from true heart. And God I pray Father that this challenge will be one that sets us free, let it burn in your people. God I thank you for where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom, Holy Spirit be among us and speak to us in this time in Jesus' Name. Amen.

How about that final verse huh? The letter is building to an end about assurance "We know the One who is true" and you are expecting it's going good, there's a lot of enthusiasm, there's momentum; we are coming to the climax of the letter. But then instead of ending with a bang suddenly the tone comes down as he says: Dear children keep yourselves from idols and it just hangs there in the air.

A typical letter ends with, you know: And the Lord be with your spirit and bless you and etcetera, etcetera. No other letter that I know about in the New Testament ends with this strong line of warning: keep yourselves from idols. He wants that phrase to echo in our minds.

There are other parts of the Bible that do things similar like um, the Lord's prayer it's all this beautiful prayer and ends saying "and deliver us from the evil one" it leaves you like: wow, with your guard up. Jesus when He preached the Sermon of the Mount ends with the parable of the two houses, one built on sand and one built on the rock and the whole sermon ends with the sound of the house came down with a great crash and there's that sight, you can almost hear it. God wants to get our attention.

Idolatry. We are Christians right? we generally don't believe in worshipping statues right? There's nothing wrong with Christian art, just don't adore statues we kind of know that already right? Just in case we don't know it please don't worship statues, you can have a manger scene in Christmas, that's fine just don't worship it, no candles to the statue, we are protestants, we believe in that.

But we generally know that. In the Bible they would make gods for themselves out of gold, out of steel and most of us say: I'm cool I don't do that, I don't remember worshipping a golden calf recently. Once when I was in Guatemala I climbed a mountain near Chichi Castenango, I was young and was kinda crazy and I found a shaman up there and there was statue, there was an altar and there were flowers and Coca Cola and a dead bird and I thought: maybe I should like get out of here and then I went down and that same shaman was in the Catholic Church in Chichi Castenango on the steps doing the incense right?

Now most of us would think: I would never do that, I can't worship idols. But in so many subtle ways we do. And idol is to substitute God. I heard a great Christian actor that said: the human heart is incurably religious. If we don't believe in the true God we will make a fake one and maybe it is not a statue in the way that used to be done but we still put things in the place of God to give our life meaning. Money, sex, food, beauty, youth, success, power, comfort, even good things right? that we set as the most important thing in my life, more important than God Himself.

Could be our family, anything that takes the place of God in our life can become an idol and believe it or not, when we give these things up even those that terrify us to do so it sets us free. I remember in level three there's a particular part where we give God ownership of everything in our lives and we go thing by thing, area by area in our lives. And after I had kids I was like a little bit you know, wow am I going to be able to pray to give God my kids? and something in me was: oh. But when I got to that part of the prayer and I said: God my kids belong to You I was stunned that I didn't feel bad, I felt happy. Because God can take care of my kids better than I would right?

He loves them more than I do. Now it doesn't mean we don't take care of them, it doesn't mean we don't love them but it means I know who is number one in my heart. And my son started to ask me that question: do you love me more than God? And then he said: daddy do you love me more than God? and I had to explain to him that if I love God most then I can love him truly. It's a little deep for a six year old but the point is saying: God I want You to be number one in my heart.

The question is: what am I searching for in life? There's a great book called: God set war. It says: it's great when you get in touch with what you are searching for but one way is to take a look into your search history in the internet. What do you search for? Now just because you look for something in the internet doesn't mean it's your idol but it could be. If you got a thousand searches on the red socks there might be a problem. If you check the stock market seventy five times in one day, whatever.

Anyway so that's one type of idolatry okay? I actually believe that what is addressed here at the end of First John is not necessarily that type of idolatry though. You see, in this time there were spin-off truths that would take christianity and change it a little bit and then come back and try to convince Christians to adopt a different version of christianity. What they did is to make christianity more compatible with the greek philosophy that was the dominant for that time. And that was the danger, it was adopting a false subversion of christianity and that still happens today.

Now we are going to be talking about this more as we move on but now it is the pressure, the tremendous pressure that we experience as Christians is to take what the Bible teaches and to adapt it to what is commonly accepted in the world around us. That if I read something in the Bible that offends me well I just cut that part out and so some of us may have Bibles with lots of holes in it as we go on.

And there is that question: what do I do with the text in the Bible that is difficult for me to understand or that I don't like what is saying? Which is gonna change, me or the Bible? Now there are some things that I may say: God I don't understand this just yet but I'm not going to cut it out, I'm gonna ask You to explain what this means. And it might take years and years and I may never understand some things but at the end of the day it's the message that needs to stay the same and I am the one who needs to change to adapt to it.

Take the word fornication from the Bible, it's a very theology word, it means having sex outside of marriage right? or before marriage. I've had guys sit in my office and say: what exactly does fornication mean? Now I'd like to see that in the greek please. Do you have it in the hebrew, ok do you have the aramaic roots of that hebrew translation of the greek, could we go to some other commentary here? it gotta mean something different from what you are saying here. Do you get the point?

It's like we gotta find a way to have it say something that I like and then after an hour it's like: okay I guess that's what it says, I don't like it but I guess I don't have to like it we'll figure this out. So basically the challenge is to be authentic in the context that is trying to force us towards unauthenticity. And it's hard; there's pressure around us but we can know that we are genuine and the Book of First John gives three different tests that you can use to evaluate if you are really in the real faith.

Now the first one is: do you believe in the real Jesus? Do you believe in Jesus who was fully God and fully human? To believe in one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, do you believe that Jesus died for you in the cross, that He is the way, the truth and the life and that I'm saved by faith in Christ? That He rose again on the third day, ascended to the right hand of the Father and will come again to judge the living and the dead? You know what? I didn't make this up, it's written in something called Creed by very early Christians who said: this is core christianity.

And we can disagree about all kinds of things right? There are churches that have different styles of worship, in this very Church we have anglican that has a liturgical style of worshipping. We have a different style, there's a different side of pentecostal, charismatic free worship as well. Sometimes these can be blended, Christians can disagree about all kinds of things and still be brothers and sisters in Christ.

But there are some things that are not negotiable. Jesus is not negotiable. Salvation by faith in Christ is not negotiable. If the Church starts saying that we don't need to believe in Jesus' death and resurrection on the cross in order to be forgiven for our sins that Church ceases to be an orthodox Christian Church. It might be a nice Church, it might part of a denomination but salvation by faith in Jesus on the cross is not negotiable.

So believing in the real gospel is important, a test of being authentic. So that's the doctrinal test. There's another test called the ethical test. Now early in First John it says that: "If God is light and in Him there's no darkness at all. If I climb to live in God but walk in darkness I'm lying to live by the truth." It's an ethical test. Do we practice what we preach?

How about that? Do you have any friends at work who could do this to you? You say something, you react in a certain way and they say: wait a minute I thought you were a Christian! They are good and they are watching, do you practice what you preach?

Now thank God there's another verse at the beginning of First John, it says: "If we say we haven't sinned we are also liars but if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." Are we in the light? Have we confessed our sin and is God working to change us? If there is no change there's probably no life. If you are the same jerk you were before you became a Christian then maybe we need to try this again.

Now wait a minute we aren't calling you jerks, we know you are all struggling with faith. By the way there's another dynamic, I'd like to talk about this in the english service to give another interpretation but there's another dynamic. Sometimes when a person accepts Jesus and the Spirit starts working and you start getting into discipleship sometimes people think they are worse than they were before especially when you are level 2, you know those levels? The truth is you are not worse than you were before, you are more aware of how bad you were already.

In the transcript this is going to sound much nastier than I mean it to be. But here is the deal. When I was learning spanish sometimes I would feel like you know: ok amanezco muy gringo que no puedo hablar nada en español, sometimes I would feel like I can't do anything right in spanish I felt like I was getting worse. But the truth is I wasn't getting worse, I was getting better but I was aware of how bad my spanish already was. Before I talked badly but I just couldn't tell the difference. Ignorance is bliss.

So sometimes that happens that as you are growing in the Spirit you feel you are going backwards but you are not. The Spirit is working to change you and if you are a genuine Christian there is a magic seed in you that is called the Holy Spirit that starts working on you and you cannot change, you must change and become more like Jesus. If it's real this will happen. Now depending on whether we work with the Spirit or not it's gonna happen either very slowly or more quickly but if we are authentic we will change, we will grow. Amen.

And you'll surprise yourself because next thing you know you are going to find yourself trying to sin and you just don't enjoy it anymore. Something in you is saying no, it's that seed of God that is working in you. Now that is the ethical test to know if I'm genuinely a Christian.

Now there's a third test that is very important: the social test. Do I love my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ? The Bible says: "How can I say I love God who is invisible, who I can't see if I don't love God's children, my brothers and sisters who I can see? And if I see my brother or sister in need and I shut up my compassion against them then how can the Love of the Father be really in me? We need to love not just in word but in action and in deed (applause).

But what if some Christians annoy you, what if there are some Christians that bother you, does that mean you are not a genuine Christian? Maybe. Because the genuine spirit in us will drive us to love our brothers and sisters but love is a decision, love is a verb, love is something we do in response to what God has done for us. We love because He first loved us. It's not perfect, there are path-holes in the road but it's happening. I love my brothers and sisters and I grow to love them more.

So are you a genuine Christian? have you put your faith in the real Jesus? Is the Holy Spirit working changing your life so you are more and more like Jesus? Are you growing in love for your brothers and sisters? Now this does not mean you are perfect and you won't struggle anymore with sin.

Now I'm finally coming back to the text after all of this background. It talks about if we see a brother committing a sin that doesn't lead to death we should pray for that person and God will have to restore them. Now that's different from those that commit a sin that leads to death.

Now I'm not going to explain all of this theology but what I am going to say is that I think I know what he is referring to are the false teachers who have renounced to their faith in Christ and changed it and are now trying to propagate that false faith. There's a difference between Judas who betrayed Jesus and didn't repent and Peter who denied Jesus three times but still had a soft heart and went and repented. There is a difference between King Saul who sinned and King David who sinned and repented.

David was a genuine man of God who sinned terribly but was able to be restored and there is something that is here to encourage us. In verse 18 says: "We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin." We may know people who have fallen into sin or struggling with sin, we may be people who have fallen into sin or struggling with sin; if we are authentic, if we have really been born of God we will not continue. God will find a way to get us back and I have seen this over and over and over again, genuine Christians who fall away and do all kinds of crazy things and you say: you know what, what are they thinking?

And I have seen the Holy Spirit chase them down and come up behind them and tackle them and grab them and drag them back into the Body of Christ because He just won't let you go, thank you God for His mercy. Jesus said that: "I am the good Shepherd and My sheep listen to My voice, I know them and they follow Me. I give them eternal life and they shall not perish, no one will snatch them out of My hands. My Father who has given them to me is greater than all and no one can snatch them out of My Father's hand." Thank God for that.

A genuine Christian community is not a perfect Christian community but it is one that is in the Hand of the good Shepherd and He won't let us keep going in the wrong way. He will spank us if He needs to but we will not continue to sin. Now it says that: "God keeps him safe and the evil one cannot harm him." It says in verse 19: "We know that we are children of God and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one" we need to know that the world is not a safe place. There is a devil, there is an evil one. There is a world system that will conspire to undermine your faith as a Christian.

There is a choice to be made. It says: "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world the Love of the Father is not in him because everything in the world, the cravings of the flesh, the lost of the eyes and the boasting of the pride of life comes not from the Father but from the world." We live in an atmosphere where there is a spiritual world that rages around us. There is a world that is trying to sell sin in a thousand ways every day and there is a sinful nature in us that is more than happy to buy what is being sold.

There is pride, there is the desire to define my value by what we have, it's called materialism. Define what I'm worth by what I do or my achievements, the pride of life. There is a spiritual world that rages around us safe in the arms of the evil one but we are children of God and the One who is born of God keeps us safe. So what do we do? should we run and hide somewhere in a monastery so we aren't tempted by the world? or maybe we can come to Church seven days a week so we don't have time to sin right? Anyone ever been tempted to sin in a Church?

Some of the nastiest sin are in the Church, the pharisees were the religious one right? Jesus said very clearly when He was praying to His Father, He said: "My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world even as I am not of it, sanctify them by Your Truth, Your Word is Truth. As I have sent me into the world I have sent them into the world."

The prophet Daniel was a politician in the pagan government of Babylon. Can Christians serve in the state house?, can Christians serve in any level of authority in society? why not? Now the temptations are great, the temptations that we encounter in this world are great but the One born of God keeps you safe. The blood of Jesus covers us and protects us from the evil one. An authentic Christian has the armor of God over his spiritual faith.

One Halloween I was walking from my building, I used to live next door here in the building with the little apartments and we were praying here on Halloween night so I was walking from there towards here and I felt something that hit my back and it bounced, and it broke on the ground: it was an egg and I looked and I saw these kids you know laughing, you this kids this, then I came to the Church. But I felt the Lord teaching me that even with spiritual warfare going on that the attacks of the enemy can bounce off due to the shield's effect.

Jesus says: "For the accuser of our brothers and sisters who accuses them before our God day and night has been hurled down; they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, by the Word of their testimony and they did not love their loves so much as to restrain from death. Authentic faith, the blood of Jesus covers an authentic Christian. That Christian need not be perfect, if they say they are perfect they are definitely not perfect but they are real and God is with them.

And it's not that we are so great but we know the One who is. Look at what it says, it says: "We also know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true and we are in Him who is true even His son Jesus Christ, He is the true God and eternal life" I don't know all the truth but I know the One who is the Truth.

I don't need to know much but I need to know Him. That thief on the cross who was dying he could not have written you theological treaties but he knew this man dying next to him on the cross is a King and He can save me. That woman who poured the perfume on Jesus' feet who came onto the street she may not have known much but she knew: I got to be near that Jesus. The woman in the crowd who forced through that touched the edge of His garment she may not have known much but she knows He is the real thing; I need Jesus, the real Jesus not a watered down of Him.

I want real christianity, I wanna know the God of Power and resurrection in my life, I want Him to change me. I can't settle for second investiness and we as a Church have decided to follow Jesus; He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah and as we begin the new transition towards a new season of our lives let's get rid of our idols. Let's say: God I want real faith in my life, I want to live genuine christianity genuinely, I wanna come back to the heart of worship. Amen, amen.

Someone stay by me and we are going to consecrate ourselves before God. This is for all of us, it's an issue to come back to the One that is true. We hold on to Him because He is already holding on to us. And so Father we come before You right now and we say: Lord forgive us for our idols, forgive us for the ways we have compromised our faith. God we know we are all sinners, we are coming to the light but we also know that You are the real Christ and You really touched our hearts. God I pray for a revival of authentic christianity.

Nothing too fancy, it doesn't have to be fancy or flashy Lord but God we want it to be real. And Lord I pray in Jesus name that You may touch anyone here that still needs to take that step of faith and say: Jesus I wanna receive You in my heart as my Lord and Savior. I invite you to do that right now. If you are not sure you have done just do it right now. I'm not going to ask you to come up but I will ask you to raise your hands to the Lord if that's the decision you wanna make today and say: Jesus I accept You as my Lord and Savior, I wanna know you Jesus. I confess my sin and I believe in You and as you are praying this prayer know that God hears you.

God I pray in Jesus' Name that You will turn us back to the heart of following You. God I pray for revival in our lives, for a new honeymoon in relationship with You. God remove the distractions that we put before You and let us know You in Jesus' Name, amen.

I'd like to end with a verse that I read at the end of every sermon during this series downstairs, this is the blessing that declares that your faithfulness depends on the faithful God, that we are going to finish strong because God will get us there. It says: "To Him who is able to keep us from falling and to present you before His Glorious Presence, without faulting with great joy to the only God our Savior be Glory, Majesty, Power and authority to Jesus Christ our Lord before all ages, now and forever more God bless You. Go in His Grace.

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