test vimeo video
Dear friends in the Risen Christ,
There is a strategy in sports and life that if something works you use it until it doesn’t work anymore. In football, you continue to exploit a weakness in the other team until they figure it out. If you find a fishing hole that catches fish, you use it until it doesn’t work. I hope we keep doing the Living Christmas card year after year until the people in the neighborhood don’t come anymore as an outreach tool. That makes sense, don’t you think.
Unfortunately the Devil knows that to - if something works, keep using it. Remember the first temptation! “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Did God really say?… What was Satan trying to do? He was trying to create doubt. Did God really say that? Did God really mean that? Does that ever work!
Think of the questions that have their basis in doubt that go right to the heart of our faith. Is this book really God’s word? Does God really exist? If he does, does he really know me? Does he really care who I am? Does my life really matter? Does he really forgive me when I do the same things over and over again day after day, month after month and year after year? There is a boatload of doubts that Satan loves to recycle. I am not sure how the Devil works and how he deposits them in our minds, but these questions of doubt are there. There is still another question that the apostle John must have dealt with, and one that I sure most have asked “am I really a Christian?” “Am I really a child of God?” John gives us much to think about today. He gives us much assurance.
I know that when you go to court the evidence presented in a trial leads to a verdict, but John explains the opposite is true with God - “The Verdict Leads to the Evidence of Faith.” 1) The verdict leads to knowing; 2) The verdict leads to knowing.
Putting it more clearly – what verdict of God leads to the evidence of saving faith in man? I don’t think that it is a big secret. It is the verdict of “you are innocent of sin because of the merits of Jesus Christ.” Listen to John. “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” Give evidence of your faith by showing it is real and functional. We are going to talk about that a little later, but listen what comes next. “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”
A lot of times people will give advice to others to follow their gut feeling; follow their instincts. But is that a good idea to trust that gut feeling? Is it a good idea to follow those instincts? Prisons are full of people who have done that. There are plenty of people who have gone broke and ruined their lives and their family’s lives because they followed that gut feeling about a stock or a “lucky number.” Can we really trust what is inside? Can we really follow our heart when Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
The sinful heart takes people in every direction but the right one. It tries to convince us that the sins we do are natural. It’s all human nature. God won’t condemn everyone for sin, will he? The sinful nature with which we are all born tries to rationalize that sin isn’t that bad and not that harmful. That’s the sinful nature taking us one way.
But the sinful heart takes us in the other direction too. It leads us to despair. God can’t and won’t forgive the countless number of sins you do. Don’t you know that - especially when you repeat those sins all the time? It is that which John addresses here. Instead of saying with that tax collector in the temple, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” the sinful nature (to Satan’s delight) says, “How can God be merciful to me, a sinner?”
But that’s the verdict of the sinful nature in us and the one Satan wants us to believe; that is not the verdict of God. Listen to John who was taught by Jesus and inspired by the Holy Spirit to write that when our hearts condemn us, “God is greater than our hearts and he knows all things.” God knows all things and he certainly knows what he did for you. As Lutherans, as Christians, we ought to know what he did for us.
The central teaching of Scripture is that man is justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ. This teaching was what Luther rediscovered by the grace of God because the church of the Middle Ages lost it. This is the teaching Satan doesn’t want anyone to hear and believe and trust. What is it? You know! You ought to know! But let me share with you two definitions that Martin Luther wrote on two different occasions. “By the one solid rock which we call the doctrine of justification we mean that we are redeemed from sin, death and devil and are made partakers of life eternal, not by ourselves…but by help from without (Outside of us), by the only begotten son of God, Jesus Christ.” Luther, to whom this teaching meant so much as it should to all, said in another place, “The article of justification, which is our only protection, not only against all powers and plottings of men but also against the gates of hell, is this: By faith alone in Christ, without works, are we declared just and saved.” Yet that heart we have that is so desperately wicked tries to persuade us that can’t be!
But think about this, do you realize what our heart is really saying? It is actually trying to tell us that our sin is greater than God’s grace, that our sin is greater than God’s love and that our sin is greater than the love of Jesus, and that God doesn’t know what he is talking about when he says that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from ALL sin. To talk about our sins like that might seem to be humility but it is not. It is arrogance. God is greater than our hearts and knows all things. When our heart tells us one thing and God tells us another, we have no business listening to the heart. God’s promises trump all things! Know that!
What we know translates into what we do. Faith gives evidence in words and actions. “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask.” John makes an interesting connection between a confident faith in the Lord and our prayer life. If we have confidence in forgiveness and all his promises, then there is no doubt that we will pray. In the book James, the writer tells us how we ought to pray as a result of faith. “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” Double-minded means to speak out of both sides of the mouth, to be caught between confidence and doubt. Unfortunately that old sinful self battles the new self. Unfortunately that is the way it will always be on this side of the grave. That is frustrating! But listen to the new nature and not be frustrated by the old nature. Pray confidently! That’s evidence of saving faith!
There is more. “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” John tells us there are basically two things our God wants from us – to believe in him and then to love him. It would be nice to take the elevator to heaven and crawl up on God’s golden throne and settle into his arms and give him a hug and tell him how much he means to each of us. We can’t, but we can love him by loving one another. We can love him by loving the people that he created around us. Someone once wrote, “He who loves his fellow man is loving God the best he can.”
Someone also once said, “Show me a church where there is love, and I will show you a church that is a power in the community.” I saw a story about a little boy who attended a Sunday school at a church. His parents didn’t go. When his parents moved to another part of the city, the little boy continued to attend the same Sunday School even though there was a long, tiresome walk each way. A friend asked him why he went so far when there were plenty of other churches nearer his home. "They might be good for others, but not for me," was his reply. "The people really love others at my church.”
It is no secret that there are fewer people attending churches these days than ever before. The percentage of people who don’t attend church compared to those who do is getting greater all the time. Is there a connection with people feeling there is no love? Do the non-attendees think that the love is supposed to flow toward them and not getting it?
Let’s be clear on this. Once someone, by the Holy Spirit’s power steps across the line from unbelief into saving faith, he is called to love. Love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Love comes with being a Christian. Jesus said that people will know that you are his disciples when you love one another.
Don’t you think we could do a lot to foster faith by practicing love? Don’t you think we could help fill up empty churches if we just practiced what we preached so that people would check out Christianity? Let genuine love that has its roots in Christ’s love fill us so we practice it.
Like all else in life, we need God’s help to love. We need his Spirit for us to love. John says, “And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” It is the work of God the Holy Spirit to take what Jesus bought for the whole world and connect it to people. What Jesus did for the world objectively love and forgive the world, the Spirit brings to people personally. He changes hearts. all. How? The Bible says the Holy Spirit is given to those who are baptized. Baptism is called the washing of rebirth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works in human hearts through the Word of God when it is preached and taught. The Word doesn’t come to us alone, the Spirit works with it. The Spirit makes the word the power of God. The Spirit works through the Lord’s Supper. The Spirit is the energy source for all of the changes that God brings about in the Christian. The Spirit produces “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Every Christian has the Spirit. You wouldn’t be a Christian if you didn’t have the Spirit. If, and I pray this is a goal of everyone, that you want to be a Christian that knows it and grows it, then don’t hinder the Spirit from working in you. Don’t neglect the promises God gave you when you were baptized; don’t neglect the Supper wher the Lord gives you his body and blood for your forgiveness; don’t neglect the Word where the verdict is found that you are not guilty but forgiven of your sin, that verdict that leads to the evidence in your life that you are a child of God.