"Sticking with it: The Basis and Benefits of Belief"
June 21/09 1Jn 5:1-15 (2:24-27; 4:13-15)
BOOK-BELIEF VS. BOB-BELIEF
The physics professor had just finished his lecture about the pendulum, wherein he had shown the mathematical proof that an untouched pendulum will always swing in ever-decreasing arcs. He then asked for a volunteer to demonstrate this fact by standing against a wall with a pendulum bob against his chin, then releasing the bob and allowing the pendulum to swing naturally through its arc. The professor reminded the class that the bob would return almost to, but not quite touching, the chin. No one volunteered. Although the science students "believed" that this law of physics was true, they were unwilling to put it to the test.
What about us - do we just have 'book-belief', understanding the theory, or do we have 'bob-belief' - ready to put it into practice? We know the facts, but are we willing to risk a step of faith based on them?
The apostle James cautions against the type of faith that gives mere mental assent without actual commitment. "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-- and shudder." (Jas 2:19) That 'believing' doesn't do them much good, does it? Do we have a faith that's ready to be tested? When the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land after coming from Egypt, the Jordan River was at flood stage. Joshua ordered the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant to step into the river, and then God would cut off the water flowing. How would you have liked to have been the leading priests to step in first? How would you have liked, once the waters had been stopped, to have been the priests having to stand there and wait in the bottom of the riverbed until the whole nation had crossed over? Would you be getting a little sweat around the collar as time went on?
Today we celebrate Christian baptism and membership as two individuals take the step of faith that involves real commitment - laying it on the line in public, acknowledging Jesus as their Lord. Their faith - and yours - will no doubt be tested by temptations and trials in coming years. People are sinful and disappoint us. Things often don't work out as we would have liked. We may be ridiculed and made fun of for not going along with the crowd.
The apostle John reminds the early church that faith is crucial to the Christian experience: there is a basis and content to belief, and there are benefits to belief that will help us stand firm when the test comes.
THE BASIS AND CONTENT OF BELIEF
Christianity is at root an historically-based religion. The basis of our belief is not principles or philosophy or even a book mysteriously dropped like a meteorite from heaven, but happenings back in Palestine in the first century that people witnessed in day-to-day life.
1John 5.6, "This is the one who came by water and blood-- Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood..." Literally 'the water' and 'the blood' - suggesting two discrete events, His baptism by John in the Jordan River ('the water'), and His death outside Jerusalem on the cross ('the blood'). These were actual events, bookmarks from the beginning of His human ministry to the bitter end, tomb, and resurrection. John as he writes is countering the Gnostic teaching of the day that Jesus didn't really have a human body, He just 'seemed' to (the Docetists), or that the Spirit of Christ came upon Him at baptism but departed before His suffering at Golgotha (the Cerinthian heresy).
Today there are many who would dismiss Christianity as untrue. Carl Sagan and other secular scientists would class Jesus in the realm of fairy tales. Historians might allow Jesus was just a good moral teacher - but Jesus' own statements don't allow for that. As Christians we believe that Jesus actually lived - introduced by His baptism - and actually died for our sins, shedding His blood at the cross, and rose again from the dead.
John goes on to say, "And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth." We understand the Old Testament prophets to have been inspired by the Holy Spirit in what they said and recorded - such as glimpsing the sufferings of Jesus centuries beforehand in passages like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. And we understand the New Testament apostles likewise to be Spirit-supervised as they proclaimed the Good News about Jesus and recorded gospels and letters we still read today. We profess to be a 'Bible-believing' church because the Holy Spirit conveys truth. 5:10 says a believer 'has this testimony in his heart'. When we become a Christian, God's no longer just speaking 'out there' in the Bible, but also inside our heart. 2:27 says "the anointing you received from Him remains in you..." This anointing or 'chrism' is a sense of the Spirit's pouring into our lives; when we read the Bible, we find Him illuminating the paragraphs, highlighting phrases, helping us see how it applies to our lives today even though it's centuries old. The Spirit nudges us to cry out to God in prayer and praise.
Another basis for belief is found in 5:9, "God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son." This includes the testimony of the Holy Spirit through the scriptural 'canon', but John may also be thinking of the audible voice the disciples heard from heaven the day Jesus was baptized, and again on the Mount of Transfiguration - "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" (Mk 1:11, 9:7) Also John says in the next verse the person who believes "has this testimony in his heart". God speaks to us directly, personally, persuading us Jesus is who He says He is. God takes the blinders away from our eyes put there by the Evil One; "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." (2Co 4:6) That's God's testimony working right inside us, helping us see our need of Him when we were stuck in sin. It's a witness inside that prompts us like Paul and Silas to pray and even sing when stuck in a dark dank dungeon in the middle of the night at Philippi (Acts 16:25).
So belief has a definite basis - God's revelation of Himself through Jesus in history, and the Spirit and the Father's voice; it also has specific CONTENT that rests on that basis. This content centres around the question of who Jesus actually is - His titles, how we refer to Him. 5:1, "Everyone who believes THAT Jesus is the Christ..." 'Christ' is not a surname like 'Jesus Smith' but the Greek word for the Hebrew 'Messiah', meaning God's appointed deliverer / ruler. Kings in Jewish history weren't crowned but anointed with oil to set them apart for the honoured task. Is Jesus 'boss' or 'President' in your life? Does He call the shots? As the sign on the hospital wall said this week, "God has not gone on vacation and left you in charge."
5:5, "he who believes THAT Jesus is the Son of God." We view Jesus as much more than just another human being - He was with God the Father before creation even came into being; He is 'begotten' by God in a way none of us are, completely one with the Father, divine yet human at the same time. 5:10 "believes in the Son of God", 4:15 "if anyone acknowledges THAT Jesus is the Son of God..." John's drilling this home because the Gnostic heretics of his day couldn't accept that Jesus was both God and man - that didn't fit their preconceived philosophical categories. Which is why we let the Bible shape our thinking rather than trying to impose our fallible man-made categories on Scripture.
5:13, "I write these things to you who believe in the NAME of the Son of God..." Slight difference, but important. The apostles realized Jesus had departed physically for the time being, but had given them authority to use His name for God's work - kind of like a portable invisible credit card that can only be cashed in situations according to God's will. Peter told the cripple beggar in Acts 3(6), "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." The Jewish leaders demand to know "By what power or what name did you do this?" To which Peter replies, "It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed...there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Ac 4:7,10,12) So we pray 'in Jesus' name'; in baptism we apply the name of the Trinity. A verbal sign of the Lord's authority, doing business His way.
2:24 also refers to faith's content: "See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you." We believe the apostolic preaching or 'kerygma', what has been proclaimed by the church through the centuries, as referred to in such early summaries as the Apostles' Creed. We don't just make it up as we go along! As Paul could say to the Corinthians, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve." (1Co 15:3-5) Passing on first facts.
And 4:14, "And we have seen and testify THAT [what?] the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world." Saviour - Greek 'soter' - to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction; thus Saviour, Deliverer, Preserver. The economy may be terrible but money can't save us. You may be a single young man but the girl of your dreams is not going to save you - even if you WERE to actually meet her! Finances and relationships are not our root problem; our root problem from which all others spring is SIN. Only Jesus, God's perfect propitiation or substitute offered for us, can save us from our sins and bent to sinning.
So, believing involves a specific CONTENT (relating to Jesus' identity) which comes from a definite BASIS (what God caused to happen and revealed about Jesus - God's testimony).
THE BENEFITS OF BELIEF
That's what you have to commit yourself TO, that's the 'river of truth' you have to step into and stand in, contrary to how the world would have you construct reality. Screen those messages the media sends!
But once we buy into this Kingdom-mindset, we discover faith has its many BENEFITS. 5:1, "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God..." Jesus told Nicodemus, "You must be born again / born from above." (Jn 3:7) A radical new life, starting over again, born 'of the Spirit'. A new creature - the old has gone. 2:25, "And this is what he promised us-- even eternal life." Wow! Death is not the end. Eternal life begins the moment we believe and goes on forever; Jesus said, "whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." (Jn 5:24) No more fear of God's judgment and being punished in hell forever!
This new life experiences God's company right inside us, a constant Paraclete or Helper/Companion. 4:15, "If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God." Astounding! Jesus says if we open when He knocks on the door of our heart, "I will come in and eat with him, and he with me" - He's not talking about wolfing down some fast food and leaving, but dining, enduring fellowship (Rev 3:20).
A benefit in 2:27 is, "His anointing teaches you about all things and...that anointing is real, not counterfeit..." The Holy Spirit becomes our Illuminator as we read Scripture and pray, teaching us what we need to know, helping us spot the devil's lies and replace them with God's awesome promises.
5:13f talks about the benefit of assurance: "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. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." Do you really know you're the Lord's, down to the core of your being? He wants you to know, to be sure of that if you're leaning totally on Jesus, nothing else - good works, family background, or anything else to your credit you might boast of. Because of Christ alone we can have confidence in approaching God - boldness, being free and fearless, absolutely frank in our praying as we'd share with a best friend. From that assurance comes ASKING - knowing we're heard and will be answered when we ask according to His will, His purposes (which do not always coincide with our physical comfort or material prosperity); remember, His aim is to shape you into Christ-likeness, with character tempered like the apostles who learned to count trials 'joy' (Jas 1:2f).
5:2 lists some positive outcomes of faith - love for God, loving His children (that means other Christians). That's a big 'fruit of the Spirit' - pouring God's love into our hearts, because other people can be pretty un-lovable at times! (Gal 5:22; Rom 5:5) Is there a person or situation that's bugging you these days? Trust God and turn to Him to supply you with the love you need.
Another benefit of believing is the power we receive to do what God wants. 5:3f, "This is love for God: to obey his commands.And his commands are not burdensome [literally, 'heavy'], for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith." God's new birth inside us provides supernatural strength to carry out God's directions. Faith leads us an empowers us. Albert Schweitzer, renowned Christian medical missionary to Africa, said: "All work that is worth anything is done in faith."
Finally, a big benefit of believing is victory that overcomes the world. 5:5, "Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God." The logo 'Nike' comes from the Greek word for 'victory'; here John is saying literally that our faith is the 'nike that has nike-d' the world - meaning the Lord helps us overcome our challenges when we trust in Him. Note it doesn't say there won't BE challenges - far from it, becoming a believer can create opposition and persecution from those who don't understand. Jesus cautioned, "In this world you will have trouble.But take heart! I have overcome [nike-d] the world." (Joh 16:33) Often that act of overcoming with God's help is what astounds non-believers and makes them wonder what's going on - what's our secret for coping. Peter Forsyth has observed, "You must live with people to know their problems, and live with God in order to solve them."
OVERCOMING CAREER CATASTROPHE - THROUGH FAITH
Life can be tough - but believing in Jesus makes all the difference. "For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith." (1John 5:4)
Bob Bilida grew up knowing about Christ, but didn't enter a relationship with Him until he was 25. In 2004 Bob's cable installation business bottomed out. His pastor at River City Church in Edmonton recalls, "Bob was spiritually, emotionally and monetarily broke and broken; he was on the verge of bankruptcy."
Bob surrendered his career and future prospects to God. He says, "It all changed after a sermon I heard at my church. The pastor said, 'Sometimes you've got to let it all go.' I decided to let it all go. I sold off my old equipment, collected as much money as I could, purchased different equipment, and prayed to find one guy who would be an asset, not a burden." Today Bob owns one of the most successful drilling operations in North America, pioneering environmentally-friendly horizontal directional air-drilling.
Bob's Christian beliefs make a difference in how he operates; he views his role as owner as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of his 10 employees. They say, "Working for Bob isn't just like working for an employer.He's willing to help people.He understands the needs of his employees. He cares because he's a Christian." Another worker notes, "Bob's focus has always been towards the wellbeing and care of his employees.He's never focused inwardly upon himself, but unselfishly toward the wellbeing of others. I've never seen a person who's invested so much time, resources and emotion into the lives of his employees. This shows me a great man of integrity."
Bob's faith in Christ has given him victory over the biggest obstacle a businessman can face. He's overcoming through trusting Jesus, who gives him love for others, and assurance God's working out His purpose in his life as Bob recognizes His Lordship. Bob says, "I'm here for a reason, for a purpose. The Lord is directing me. It's a walk of faith." Let's pray.