This is the second week we are looking at the Apostle John’s first letter to the early Christian Church that we call 1 John. We are looking at 1 John as a way to help us better understand our Christian testimony, that is what Jesus Christ means to us. Last week, we looked at how our testimony should be bold and bright even if we sound a little strange to others. We should sound strange because our testimony is that we believe we have had a spiritual encounter with Jesus the Christ and that we are in fellowship with God who stands outside of creation. Last week, I summed up our what our testimony might sound like after reading Chapter 1 of 1 John, and it might sound something like this: “I am a Christian and by that, I mean I seek to imitate Christ and be in fellowship with God. I can imitate Christ Jesus because he has removed all my sins from me when he died on the cross. This is grace. Because of this grace, my mind has been transformed, it has been changed. I now try to see my life through Jesus’ eyes and do the things He would have me do. This is living in the light. But I am not perfect. So when I do veer again into sinful behavior, Jesus is there to call me back to Him, to clean me up, and restore me to fellowship with God. Without Jesus, I am lost.”
Today, we are going to continue with Chapter 2 of John’s letter to see what else we may want to add to or alter about our testimony. And if I could sum up in a single word what John main charge in his testimony in Chapter 2 it would be the word “known” or “know.” Fourteen times John used one of two Greek words for the English word know or known. John was putting an emphasis on knowing Jesus and knowing that obedience to Jesus and love are inseparably joined together.
We saw the emphasis on certainty and knowing from our Old Testament reading in Psalm 100. The psalmist said, “3 Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture…5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:3, 5). There is emphatic confidence coming from the psalmist declaring what he knows to the core of his being. There is nothing wishy-washy in what the psalmist is saying in his testimony. And what the psalmist was certain of was that God’s love was unchanging.
Our testimony is compelling when we express it with certainty. Studies of court testimony by eyewitness has shown that persuasion occurs when there is certainty expressed by the witness. This persuasion occurs because the jury wants to bring its beliefs into line with reality and believes that a witness having confidence is communicating valid information about reality. This is true because in general, when we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the confident actions of others as correct.
There was an infamous case of uncertainty that contributed to the death of a young woman named Kitty Genovese. One summer evening in New York City, Kitty was returning home to her apartment when she was attacked and stabbed by a former boyfriend. Many people heard her cries for help and went to their windows to see what was going on. Each person observed the attack and Kitty’s the screams for help. When the witnesses could see other witnesses not reacting to the situation, none of the witnesses reacted. No one called the police or rendered assistance to Kitty. Uncertainty proved fatal.
John’s testimony in Chapter 2 began with what John knew for sure. “We have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1b-2). At the time John wrote these words, there were people from the Christian Church who were suggesting a different path of salvation, one that did not depend upon the work of Jesus upon the cross. These folks were called Gnostics. The Gnostics believed knowledge itself brought human enlightenment, a sense of salvation. The Gnostics believed that Jesus was merely a human who attained the pinnacle of enlightenment through gnosis, knowledge of spiritual mysteries, and taught his disciples to do the same. John was confident and adamant the Gnostics were wrong. John said, Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for sin (1 John 2:2a) and that Jesus came from God and had returned to God to be our advocate (1 John 2:1b). There was no other pathway to salvation.
Now we might think that 2,000 years later, the Christian Church has settled itself on who Jesus is, why he came, and why he died. Unfortunately, within those who say they are Christians, there are some interesting beliefs. For example, it is a core belief of Christianity that Jesus never sinned. However, 25% of Christians recently surveyed believe that Jesus committed sin like all of us. It is a core belief of Christianity that Jesus is the only way to God. However, about half of the Christians surveyed all religious beliefs are of equal value. It is a core belief of Christianity that Jesus died for your sins and my sins and because of the completed work of Christ we can have eternal life with God. However, more than half the Christians surveyed believe that just living a good life is enough to get into heaven.
There are more statistics, but I think you get the point. Basic Christian beliefs within the church suggest significant uncertainty about core Christian beliefs. Uncertain witnesses give poor and unconvincing testimony. Think of it this way. Suppose you were on trial for a serious crime of which you were innocent. How would you feel if during your trial your character witnesses were asked whether they thought you committed the crime and their response was, “I place the odds at about 50/50.” That kind of uncertain response would be a serious situation for your defense. John, in his letter, was indicating the early church was facing a serious situation about core beliefs and that there were people from the church actively preaching and teaching untrue doctrine that was leading to uncertainty among Christian. The Church today is facing a serious situation about core beliefs with people teaching untrue doctrine leading to uncertainty among Christians and weakening the gospel message to non-believers.
John expressed the crisis this way, “18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18). John is the first in all of Scripture to use the word antichrist. What is the antichrist? John wrote simply, “Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ, such a person is the antichrist” (1 John 2:22). There were antichrists in John’s day and there are antichrists aplenty in our day, because they deny Jesus as the Christ. John said though, “21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth” (1 John 2:21). John was saying here that his reader knew the difference between the truth and a lie, and that truth will not fail you. The truth was Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and the only pathway to salvation.
What then was the significance of confidently knowing Jesus for who he was? John said it was this, “3 We know that we have come to know him (Jesus) if we keep his (Jesus’) commands. 4 Whoever says, “I know him,” (Jesus) but does not do what he (Jesus) commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. 5 But if anyone obeys his (Jesus’) word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him (Jesus): 6 Whoever claims to live in him (Jesus) must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:3-6). To confidently say we know Jesus, John said was not based upon head knowledge of some secret mysteries of life and the universe. To confidently say we know Jesus, is however, based upon obedience, it is based upon behaviors, that show that we believe Jesus is the Christ, that we have listened to what Jesus said, and we are doing what Jesus said.
That was quite a lot that John put forth there about knowing Christ. John was saying here that we can be confident in our testimony and in our destiny by knowing Jesus, abiding in Him, and being like Him. And the simplicity of John’s charge to his church of knowing, abiding, and being in Jesus has huge and eternal implications.
Think of those implications this way. Jesus once said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Those words from Jesus immediately sounds quite disturbing because Jesus was saying that there will be people who recognize Jesus on earth and say Jesus is their “Lord” who will not later be found in heaven. That means people who are in the church itself will not be in heaven.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will say, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23). These “churchgoers,” if you will, said and did some marvelous things but they did not know Jesus because they were not obedient to the words of Jesus which express the will of God. And because they were not obedient to Jesus, Jesus did not know them. These “churchgoers” did not abide in Jesus, and Jesus did not abide in them. These “churchgoers” were not being like Jesus, and Jesus being evident in them.
What was the problem with these “churchgoers?” The problem with their testimony was that these “churchgoers” did not genuinely obey Jesus because they would not love like Jesus. Obedience and love. As a society we dislike the word obedience, and we like the word love. John was saying for us to confidently know Jesus and thus be assured of our destiny we must embrace equally embrace obedience and love. We will recall, John wrote, “Whoever claims to live in him (know, abide, and be) must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6). Claiming Jesus must be seen in living like him.
John helps us understand his point this way, “Anyone who claims to be in the light (claims to live in Jesus) but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness” (1 John 2:9). We heard this point from John last week as well, “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth” (1 John 1:6). We “churchgoers” cannot genuinely claim Christ and hate people. Let’s not get confused here. We do not have to like and approve of things people do and we may even hate some of the things they did because of the pain that those behaviors brought about, but we cannot hate the person. And John started off by making it emphatic that you cannot hate a brother or sister, meaning you cannot legitimately claim Christ and hate another Christian, that is the context of brother or sister.
John then restated his point that, “Anyone, any churchgoer, who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble” (1 John 2:10). Our confident testimony about Christ should be evident because of our obedience to Christ is shown by our loving of all in the church. Obedience and love are coupled, and we must equally embrace both. John then concluded with, “If you know that he (Jesus) is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right (obeys Jesus) has been born of him (Jesus)” (1 John 2:29).
What then do we do with all that John has shared with us today? First, we must get our minds straight and confident on basic Christian beliefs. Jesus is not just a good teacher or wonderful mentor. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who died to take your sins and to take my sins. Second, Jesus is not a pathway to God. He is emphatically the only way to God and eternal life. Third, we must not only accept Jesus as the Christ and the pathway to eternal life but we take the power that comes in knowing Jesus and then confidently obey Jesus and demonstrate that obedience daily by loving one another.
How then might we state our testimony after reading the second Chapter of John’s letter. We might say, ““I am a Christian and by that, I mean I know Jesus is the Son of God and that Jesus died on the cross to take my sins. This is grace and this is love. I now seek to obey Christ and be in fellowship with God. I know Jesus by living my life as Jesus would do by showing his love to others. But I am not perfect. So when I stumble in walking with Jesus in this life, Jesus is there to call me back to Him, and restore me to fellowship with God. I know without Jesus, I am lost.”
Let’s be confident in our testimony and demonstrate that this week through our obedience to Jesus and our love for one another. Amen and Amen.