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First John

Heart's Condemnation

1 John 3:10-24

"How can I be sure I'm saved?" In sin, in misery, in criticism we ask ourselves this question. There is a test, but it takes sober reflection and clear understanding to get it right.

Two Kinds of People

One wag put it this way: "There are two kinds of people: those who divide people into two kinds, and those who don't." Hard to argue with logic like that! John also tells us that there are two kinds of people:

(1 John 3:10-12 NIV) This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. {11} This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. {12} Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous.

Two kinds of people - really!

One of the most common ideas held by the populace at large is this. There are three kinds of people:

True Christians - really great saints - who live the life Christ would have them live.

Really evil people - gangsters and such - who are genuinely evil.

The rest of the world, kind of in the middle.

John tells us here that this is not so. There are only two groups: the children of God and the children of the devil. Why is there no group of "fence sitters?" It is because we are eternal! We are either headed in God's direction, on his path, or we are not. If this life were all that would ever be, there could be fence sitters. But given eternity, everyone arrives at either heaven or hell. How can we tell which is which?

The children of the devil - and all of us are born this way - are those who are centered upon themselves. They may be noble looking and highly virtuous - but they're going the wrong way.

The children of God - who may look to the world to be a rather ragged lot - who are obedient and centered on others. They may have a long way to go - but they have all of eternity to get there, and they're on the right road.

Let us not confuse position with direction.

Two tests to tell

There are two tests, as well: the sins of commission and the sins of omission.

Commission means this: you know what righteousness is, and you do it. You tell the truth, keep honest books, honor your father and mother, and so on.

Omission means this: you do not neglect what you should do. If someone is in need you do not neglect them but care for them.

The result: hatred of the righteous

At first glance you might think that the children of God would be honored and the children of the devil reviled, but it is not so. It is the children of God who are hated.

Consider, for example, the venom directed against the Promise Keepers movement. A movement which espouses loyalty and love to your wife is reviled as being "anti-woman." Anyone with the slightest acquaintance with the movement knows the falseness of the charge, yet it stays with us to this day in hissing venom.

Or consider that which is directed at the pro-life movement. No group of Christian leaders is as pilloried in the press as those who are pro-life. Indeed, the press will not even use the phrase; it must be "anti-abortion." Their opponents are the noble "pro-choice" advocates who slaughter over a million unborn children ("safe, legal and rare") in the United States alone. Our First Lady applauds the Chinese system of mandatory abortion for second children and at once a chorus of appreciation rises from the "pro-choice" movement. The Christian condemns it as both murder and a violation of the mother's liberty, and the press wonders how anyone could be so backward.

It is as the Psalmist had it:

(Psa 12:8 NIV) The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men.

The example John gives us here is Cain, and it is worth the time to read it:

(Gen 4:3-15 NIV) In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. {4} But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, {5} but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. {6} Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? {7} If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." {8} Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. {9} Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?" {10} The LORD said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. {11} Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. {12} When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth." {13} Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is more than I can bear. {14} Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me." {15} But the LORD said to him, "Not so ; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over." Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.

The key points we need to see are these:

God is not playing favorites. He tells Cain clearly that if he brings a proper sacrifice, he will be accepted. Cain makes the choice, not God.

If Cain will not do so, however, sin is right at hand to take advantage of the situation. God did not entrap Cain.

When Cain murders his brother, he responds to the charge with self-justification, not repentance.

Here you see it: there is room to turn around, but sin is always ready to strike. If you will not repent, you will bring forward your own justification, your own righteousness. That will cause you to hate the righteous, for you know (in your heart of hearts) that you are a fraud, and the righteous are not.

But consider the source: love is from God; hate is from the devil. One of the two will ultimately master you; by this will you know whose child you are.

The Nature of Love

(1 John 3:16-18 NIV) This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. {17} If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? {18} Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

The defining test of love is that we are willing to lay down our lives for our brothers, as Christ laid down his life for us. It sounds so difficult! But consider:

If I am destined to reign with Christ in eternity, is my life here really so dear?

Because He lives, I shall live. I shall rise at the resurrection of the righteous. What then of this puny span of years?

Purity of love

The world, of course, exhibits "love" in its own fashion. The word runs like a greased pig through the pop culture of my generation. Its meaning changes with every tide, and love is abused and used to justify almost everything. How then can we truly understand the real nature of the word?

One principle may guide us. God is love. The closer to God, the more pure the love you find; the farther away, the more impure is the love you find. For example, one may say "I love my wife." If you say it with the same meaning that you would use in saying, "I love my dog," then you have a major problem with your marriage. Why? Because your wife was created in the image of God, and your love for her should reflect that.

I recall an incident concerning the former Los Angeles Rams. The owner, Georgia Frontiere, remarked that she loved her players - just as she did her racehorses. If one of her horses was hurt, she would be quite upset, and likewise with the players. (I believe the Rams went 3-13 that year). I wonder how a human being felt being compared to a horse that way. But she clearly meant it to be a positive statement of her love for her team and its players.

The practical test: your brother

There is a completely practical test of this love. It concerns the brother or sister in Christ who is in need. What do you do for them?

It is a practical test because the poor will always be with us, at least until our Lord returns. So you will never run out of chances to test the truth of your love.

Indeed, our Lord wants you to love them so much that he considers it as if you had done it to him. Think about this: if you do something kind for my children, would I not feel obliged to repay your kindness if possible? How much more, then, if you are kind to God's children?

All of us need help at one time or another; all of us have been "the poor" in one way or another. You have received help; is it not fair that you should return it too?

If this were not enough, our Lord is frequently explicit as to the blessings given to those who share with the poor.

Actions and Truth

This is really about integrity. Integrity means oneness, oneness in this instance of what we say we are and what we actually do. We must both believe and confess, and then do, what our Lord commands.

It is not sufficient to substitute actions for truth. God is not the cosmic bean-counter.

Nor will it work to substitute words for actions. Proclaiming that God intends charity to the poor (but just not from me) is hypocrisy.

The Confidence Test

(1 John 3:19-24 NIV) This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence {20} whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. {21} Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God {22} and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. {23} And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. {24} Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

If we have such integrity, we can examine ourselves and pass the confidence test that John puts before us. This is not an excuse for sin. If sin is in our lives, we need to judge it in ourselves and repent. But often the challenge comes from Satan in another way: "How do you really know that you are saved?" John's answer is simple: examine the facts. Even though your feelings may say one thing, the facts are what count. Examine those facts, and if you have been a person of integrity, who has obeyed God's commands and put forth his love, then throw your doubts away - salvation is yours. Its evidence is right before you.

One reason for doing this is prayer: the prayer of those who doubt is not heard.

The mark of the prayer warrior

John here shows us why such a test is so important, for he describes the successful prayer warrior in this passage.

The successful prayer warrior is confident. The word can also be translated "bold." Often we seem timid in our prayers. Think of this: do your children approach you with fear and trembling, or perhaps they come to you with a very familiar air of confidence?

Successful prayer has a purpose. That purpose here is to receive that for which we ask.

There is a scope to our prayers, too - "whatever." God places no particular limits on what he allows to ask for, as long as we meet his conditions.

His conditions are simple: that we keep his commands and we do what pleases him.

The obedient child, growing in wisdom, may come to his father and ask almost anything.

Two commands

The lesson seems to have come in "twos." John finishes with two commands.

First, we are to believe in the name of Jesus.

To believe is to trust, and to trust we must have the confidence necessary. Hence the examination; hence the good works. If you believe, you will act.

We are to believe on the name of Jesus. We recall the movie line, "Halt in the name of the law!" It involves authority, does it not? Then who do you consider the ultimate authority in the universe?

Next we are to love one another.

We do this as we follow his example; he loved us; we must love each other.

We must do this in His Spirit, not in hypocrisy.

Love God - and do as you please.

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