Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How Do You Know that You Are a Christian?

Preached at Northwest Christian Church

David P. Kautt

Sunday Morning, May 16, 2010

1 John 2:7-11: “Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

How do you know that you are a Christian?

You know, there are a lot of important questions to consider across the course of our lives. This last week, my family and I encountered several of these all at once. I bet your experience was something similar. For example, we received invitations from at least two young friends to attend their graduation ceremonies, as they complete their high school education. And, the question up for consideration when such an opportunity arises is – what next? “What do they plan to do with their lives?” Then, along comes Friday – never a dull moment around our place – and, two more questions to wrestle with. Both of these questions were prompted by phone calls that came our way. “David, my dad just died and we’re trying to find someone to conduct his funeral service. Would you be willing and available?” the caller inquired. The significant question raised by that caller’s questions is obvious, isn’t it? “Am I / Are we ready to die?” No one knows where or when or how death will come – but, surely – we al know it will come! And, surely, surely, we must be ready!

The other phone call I answered on Friday was no less significant than the first one. Unlike the first caller, the young lady’s voice on the end of the line was not familiar to me. She asked, “Would your church building be available for a wedding on Saturday evening?” Here it was just barely 24 hours ahead of time, and then she asked, “If need be, would you be available to perform the ceremony?”

Once again important question were placed before me and my family. In this case, the one most relevant to our lives and our family – as we’re watching our children grow up on us – is, “Who will our children marry?” “Who does the Lord have in store for them as future spouses.”

How do you know that you are a Christian? All things considered, this question ranks at the top as far as importance is concerned! In fact, whether it be the crossroad of life we call high school graduation, the intersection of two lives and two families being shaped into one new family at the wedding altar, or the disruption of our lives by the end of someone’s life – all of these situations, and the questions they present to us, must be guided and governed by the answer to the question: How do I know, how do you know – that you’re a Christian?

The apostle John, guided by the Holy Spirit, places before everyone who claims to know Christ as Savior, three tests, if you will, to use in order to verify an answer to this question, “How do I know that I am a Christian?” Well, first of all, there is the “Right Behavior” test. 1 John 2:6, the last verse of the paragraph just prior to the one we read a moment ago, puts it like this: “He who says, ‘I am abiding in God – in Christ – must walk [must live] his life just as He (Jesus) walked.” In the third verse, John declares, “Here is how we know that we have come to know God, if we keep His commandments…” You understand where the word of God is going with this, don’t you? The test of right behavior is the test of obedience to God. Or, to put it another way, the first way John urges us to answer the question, “Are you a Christian?” is by placing before you yet another question. And that question is what I call the ‘How You Live’ question.

The third benchmark, the third guidepost or self-test God’s word challenges us to perform is one we have not encountered yet in our study of First John, but if you’d like to mark it down, simply note that it is the “Right Doctrine” test. In light of the apostle John’s question: “How do you know that you are a Christian?” – through this letter, the Holy Spirit inspired John to ask us, “What do you believe?” “What do you believe as to the Identity and Uniqueness of Jesus of Nazareth?”

We’ve looked at benchmark #1. In the future days, the Lord willing, we will look at benchmark #3. But, for today, at least, it’s time to stop and examine benchmark #2 – self-test #2, the Test of Right Relationships and the question “How Do We Love?” How do we love?

This second test is unique in a way, compared to tests #1 and #3. And, yet it is quite similar to the other tests. In simple terms, the similarity is that all three of the tests place before us a command (or a group of commands) that the Lord hands down to us through the apostle John. Think of it this way, the Right Behavior Test revolves around God’s command “This is how My children must live!” And, the Right Doctrine Test revolves around God’s command, “This why My children must believe about My Son!” In a similar fashion, the Right Relationships Test – the benchmark we have stopped to examine today – revolves around a command of God also. That command is: “This is how my children must love.”

Though all three of these benchmarks have some similar features, there also is a uniqueness to each one. For a moment, let’s consider the uniqueness or uniquenesses of benchmark #2 - the How I Must Live command. To begin with notice with me that - according to verse 7 of our study text – this command to love our fellow Christians is actually an old commandment… I wonder what that means? But, then take a look at verse 8. No sooner has John informed us that this command to love one another is old - he turns right around to tell us that it also is new! Read the text with me again.

1 John 2:7-8: “Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.”

How is it that one of God’s commands can be both OLD and NEW? Let’s see if we can untie that knot…

This command to love our brothers and sisters in Christ – it is old. “How old?” you ask. Leviticus 19:15-18. Going all the way back to the days of Moses, the lawgiver and the children of Israel as they left Egypt and made their way to the Promised Land – 1,400-1,500 years before John’s time, plus 2,000 more years to bring it up to our time - at the heart and center of God’s instruction to His people to safeguard justice from partiality and prejudice – at the heart and center of God’s instruction to His people to safeguard one’s heart from thoughts of hatred and grudges and one’s hands from acting on that hatred by taking vengeance when God alone had the right to carry out vengeance; at the heart and center of these God-ordained instructions given 3,500 years ago are these words:

Leviticus 19:18 – “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

This command, this benchmark, is old! It is found in, of all places, the Old Testament, the Old Law as we sometimes call it. And yet, 1 John 2:8. And, yet it is new… it is new. How so? In the margin of your Bible beside verse 8 of our text, or if nothing else write it in your memory, store away this tidbit. Two initials, two letters with periods after each letter: J.C. J.C. The old commandment of Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself” is new, infused with fresh meaning because of J.C. – whose initials are those? Jesus Christ’s. When God’s Love Gift came into our world in the form of His Son Jesus Christ, He showed us what it meant to love one another. John 13:33ff – take a quick look again at the thirteenth chapter of the gospel of John with me, would you please? The scene is the upper room, on the night when Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, on the night when Jesus was deserted, abandoned by Peter and all the rest, on that fateful night what does Jesus do?

Well, we learn from the records of the other gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – that Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper in that upper room, and takes His disciples forward just a few hours to the ultimate expressions of Love at Calvary! But, notice also, from the record that John supplies of this scene, we learn that Jesus brings the old commandment of Leviticus 19:18 back to the ears of His followers. And then, through what He does when He takes up a pitcher of water, a wash basin and a towel – and what does He do? Through His humble washing of His disciple’s feet, Peter, James, John and even Judas Iscariot, Jesus infuses this old commandment, “Love your neighbor,” with fresh meaning! Verse one of John 13 tells us that Jesus loved His own to the end. And, coupled with that – with that humble, servant-like expression of that love – He offers these words:

John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

How do you know that you are a Christian? Benchmark #2: the ‘Love Test’, as we are calling – it sets before us this probing question: Have you washed anyone’s feet lately? Have you dispensed a cup of water to someone in Jesus’ name lately? Have you visited the fatherless and the widows lately? And, have you done it, not to get the attention and approval of men, but did you do it because of Christ? Because you love and want to honor J.C.? “A “new” commandment I am writing to you,” John declares, “which thing is true in Him – in J.C.” The question, however, is: “Is it also true, it is also real, a fact, a reality, in you and me?” There are some who say, “I am in the light”, however, according to verse 9, at the same – think of the contradiction John underscores here – at the same time these false brothers and sisters are claiming to be “in the light,” their hateful actions and attitudes toward their fellow Christians proves that their claim is empty. It shows, rather, that they are in the darkness!

Beloved, let me wrap up this message this way: what is the GOAL of our study this morning? 1 John 2:7 – some might say that the goal of this sermon is to learn that a commandment has been written, Leviticus 19:18, John 13:34,35. Is that the goal? No! 1 John 2:7 – others might say that the goal of this study is to hear a word from the Lord – is that the goal? Merely to hear, but never to do? You know what the answer to that is, don’t you?

1 John 2:9 – What is the goal of this message? A false, phony, empty, even evil profession, “I am in the light,” masking the hatred that is in one’s heart? No! No! No! One more time – what IS the goal? 1 John 4:11 – that the implications of John 3:16 might be demonstrated in and through our lives. 1 John 4:12-16 – that the impartation of God’s Life and of His Divine Nature might be evident, proved and prove-able in our lives. 1 John 3:10-11 – that the fact that God is our Father might be indicated in and through our lives. 1 John 2:8 – that the answer to the question, “Am I a Christian?” might be “yes!” “Yes!” “Yes!” - because the new commandment to love my brothers and sisters in Christ is true, real – a fact – in you, as it is in Jesus Christ!

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