Abide in the Light (God is Light - Part 3)

June 15, 2014 Speaker: Micah Mercer Series: God is Light

Scripture: 1 John 2:28–3:24

1 John 2:28-3:24 (Abide in the Light)

Where is your home? In one sense, this is one of the most difficult questions for me to answer. As of September this year, I will be 34 years old. So far in my life, I have moved 33 times. I have lived in 4 countries, 10 cities, and 29 different buildings. Seven times, I have moved across national borders. One year I moved 4 times across three countries. The most permanent address I have ever had lasted a bit less than 4 years. The word “home” has very little physical meaning to me.

In the spiritual sense, however, I can clearly and confidently tell you where my home is. I abide in Jesus. In English and Greek, abide is not bound specifically to a building or a physical place. It can also mean to remain or live in a relationship. In other words, though I have no physical home in the world, I am at home in Jesus because I abide in him.

This month we are working our way through the first letter of John. According to John, the foundation of fellowship with God is trusting that Jesus’ sacrifice has paid for our sin. The song we sang last Friday summed this up well with the words, “I won’t be punished for what he already bore on the cross.” Instead of punishment from God that we deserve, we receive fellowship with Him by faith in Christ. He brings us into relationship with Himself. The effect of this fellowship is what John calls ‘walking in the light’ which basically means to confirm your fellowship with God by being conformed to His character and obeying Him.

Each week as we read through this letter, John introduces us to different ways of thinking about the outworking of fellowship with God in our lives. In the last couple of weeks he has used the phrases ‘walking in the light’ and ‘knowing God.’

In this chapter he uses the phrase ‘abiding in him.’ This is not to confuse us, but to help us understand more deeply what he was talking about. The word abide means the place where you live, it refers to your home. Whereas walking makes us think of action or what we do, abiding should make us think about where we live.

Let’s begin in chapter 2 verse 28 where John said:

2:28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.

This is a vital thing for us to think about. The verse we just read makes reference to Jesus’ return to judge all people. When that day comes, we will either have confidence before Jesus, or we will shrink from him in shame. Matthew 25 paints a vivid picture of these two outcomes. Jesus will either say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Or, he will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

The big question that determines the outcome for us is “Where do you live?” According to John, you are abiding in Jesus, or you are abiding in the world. Neither John nor the rest of the bible gives us any third option.

The last time I was at the U.S. Embassy to register my daughter’s birth, they asked for proof of my physical presence in the USA. In other words, they wanted me to show them that I have actually lived there. This proof could include things like utility bills, house payment receipts, employment records, etc. I was able to prove that I had lived in the USA using my birth certificate and my Army service record. There was another person in front of me, however, whose documents did not add up to sufficient evidence and he was sent away.

Time and again in his letter, John makes it clear that talk is cheap. That is, there must be evidence to back up what you claim. If you say you abide in Jesus, there must be evidence to back up that statement. In our text today, John gives us four areas of life to look at that can prove whether we abide in Jesus or in the world.

The first proof John asks of us is who knows you?

1. Who knows you?

If you have lived someplace, it generally follows that there are people there who know who you are. People who look at you and say, “That’s Micah, I know him!”

Let’s look at the gospel of John 1:10-13, and then at 1 John 3:1.

10 He [Jesus] was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

These parallel passages of scripture interlock to give us clear understanding. The world was made through Jesus, yet when he came into the world, the world did not know him. If the world did not know Jesus, the world also will not know those who abide in him.

Transformation, by fellowship with God, separates you from worldly values and ways of thinking. Several months ago, in my series on Luke, I preached a sermon on Jesus’ sermon on the plain. He said some astonishing things there. Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, and weeping now. Woe to you who are rich, full, and laughing now. Jesus was speaking in superlative terms to illustrate that the values of the world cannot be reconciled with the values of God. In short, if you abide in Jesus the world will not know or even understand you.

I think the best example I can give of this truth is from the perspective of someone who I knew before I really began to abide in Jesus. There was a period of about five years that I did not live like a Christian even though I never stopped calling myself one. This person knew me for most of those 5 years. During that time, in our conversations, she would often say, “Micah, I know you.” And it was true.

But then came a point in my life where God used my circumstances to draw me to himself such that I surrendered my life totally to him. Over the course of the next year as I abided in him, God reformed my values and desires. I did not realize the extent of my transformation until the day I met that friend again. At the end of the conversation we had that day she looked at me and said, “I don’t know who you are.”

If you abide in Jesus, the world will not know you. People will not understand your values or desires because they don’t understand God’s values. On the other hand, God will know you. Both of these passages that we looked at refer to the fact that by faith Jesus makes us children of God. Who would know us better than our Father?

Who knows you? Does the world know you or does God know you? If God knows you and the world is confused by you, that is a proof that that you abide in Jesus.

The second test that John gives us as proof of abiding in Jesus is the test of what we do.

2. Do you practice righteousness or lawlessness?

Let’s look at verses 4-10

4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

The keyword here is practice. Greek word is ‘do,’ but the construction of this word shows that we are not dealing with something that is done once, but something that is a habit, that is done often, something you make a practice of doing. It is the difference between the one time action (I helped my brother) and the habitual action (I help my brothers). This proof looks at the overall pattern of a person’s life and not just a single incident.

The point that John is making in this passage is that a consistently sinful lifestyle does not match up with abiding in Jesus. The flow of the argument is that sin is the work of the Devil. I’ll add that sin is doing anything that God has revealed, either explicitly or implicitly, to be wrong, and failing to do anything that God commanded. Jesus came to destroy that work. Therefore, if your life is characterized by doing sinful things, you are doing the work of the Devil which proves you are not abiding in Jesus.

On the other hand, that one mistake you made, will not give you a one way ticket to hell. When I was a kid, I was puzzled by a question that a friend asked me. He said, what if you go to church, read your bible, pray, and do lots of good things, but then one day you are crossing the street and a car is coming to hit you and you let loose some nasty language just before you die, will you go to Hell?

We must understand cause and effect here. It is not acts of religious devotion and good works that gets you into God’s Kingdom. It is faith in Christ that leads to devotion and good works. Faith is proven to be real by an overall pattern of righteousness (as defined by God in the bible) in your life. Therefore, one proof that you abide in Jesus is that pattern of righteousness in your life.

At the end of this passage, John also mentioned love for brothers as proof of abiding in Jesus. So the question is:

3. Do you love or hate your brothers?

10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

In this section, we see two aspects of the proof of love. The first is found in how we respond to the hate of the world. John begins first with a comparison of Cain and Abel to characterize the values of those who abide in the world and those who abide in Jesus. Just as Cain hated his brother Abel, so the world will hate those who abide in Jesus when we refuse to conform to what the world says and instead do what is right according to God.

Some of today’s hot-button issues bring this truth to light. Christians who believe what the bible says about homosexuality are labeled bigots. Christians who speak out for the rights of unborn children are called uneducated zealots. Brothers and Sisters, don’t be surprised if the world hates you for saying and doing what is right. At the same time, do not make the fatal error of combining righteousness with arrogance and hate of your own.

Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, and to do good to those who hate us. If you abide in him, you will obey his command to love your enemies. When we see people doing evil, we need to exercise a great deal of wisdom to know what is the most loving thing we can do for them. We also need to make the distinction between those who are in Christ and those who are not. We can’t expect people who abide in the world to live or behave like those who abide in Jesus.

To be as blunt as I can, an unrepentant sinner who is not breaking the laws of his own society and does not claim Christ does not need us to correct him, he needs the gospel. The gospel says we are all sinners who separate ourselves from God and the only way to be restored is by faith in Christ.

On the other hand, a person who claims Christ yet lives in unrepentant sin needs his brothers and sisters to speak the truth in love to him so that he might repent.

The second aspect of the proof of love in this passage is love for believers. If a person hates the body of believers, it is proof that he abides in the world. John says very clearly in verses 14-15.

14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

The point here is that it simply is not possible to be a Christian who hates Christians. Jesus is not separated or divided. If you abide in Jesus, not only will you love your brothers and sisters who also abide in him, you will love them the same way that Jesus does.

Jesus laid down his life for me and for you. John cites this as the type of love we are to have for one another. We are called to selfless, even self-sacrificing, love for each other. The example he gives is a financial one. If you have the ability to help a believer in need and fail to do so, you need to question yourself. If Jesus, whom you claim to abide in, gave up his body and blood to satisfy your greatest need, how can you turn your back on a fellow believer?

Love for enemies and brothers is one proof that you abide in Jesus.

John saved the best and most important proof for last. The final proof that we can look for in our own lives to see if we abide in Jesus is the proof of faith.

4. Do you believe in the name of Jesus?

19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

What if I were to tell you that among all the sins that are possible to commit, there is only one sin that will ever get anyone to Hell? Think about it. John says here that the primary commandment of God to us is to believe in the name of Jesus. The only way to Hell is to fail to obey this one command. Everything else, even love for brothers, is secondary to this. Therefore, the most important evidence of all that we abide in Jesus is that we believe that he died in our place for our sins.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is Ezekiel 36 where God promised rebirth through fellowship with Him. He said that He would wash us clean, give us a new moldable heart, and put His own Spirit in us to cause us to carefully obey His commands. By the way, that is what Jesus meant by being born of water and the Spirit. We find the fulfillment of this promise here in this passage.

If you believe in Jesus, God has promised that His Spirit will be with you to help you do the rest, to make you known to God and distinct from the world, to help you practice righteousness, and to help you love. God’s Spirit is the actual agent of change in our lives. He is the One who makes it possible to abide in Jesus because he is actually present with us.

In my own life, I don’t know how else to explain this but to say that I know He is always with me. When I do what is wrong, my own heart tries to condemn me, but because God’s Spirit is with me, He overcomes my heart. In that way, that condemnation is changed into conviction, I am given the desire, and the power to do what is right. Also, with His Spirit in me, I am enabled to pray for things that are glorifying to God instead of selfish, I am enabled to love my brothers and sisters, I have power to do what pleases God, and I have confidence before Him. Faith in Jesus is proven by the presence of God’s Spirit in your life. God’s Spirit then causes all the other proofs to be worked out in you.

To go back to our beginning question: Where do you live? Do you live in Jesus or in the world? You may have noticed how many times John made reference to being born of God and becoming His children. This comes as a direct result of believing in Jesus and is actually the foundation of abiding in Him.

Jesus said in John 3:3 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” I think the simplest way to put this is if you are not a child of God, you cannot live in His house. If you are not born again, you cannot enter His Kingdom. The reason for this is also found in verse 10 of today’s text.

10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

Once again, John gives no third option. There are only children of God and children of the Devil. The combined evidence of your life including faith or lack of faith, love or hate, righteousness or sinfulness, and whether God knows you or the world knows you, all point to one or the other. If you are born of God, you will abide in Him and it will show in your life. If there is no evidence in your life, you are not abiding in him, and are therefore not a child of God.

Where’s your proof of residence? We need to examine ourselves. I would encourage you to begin with faith. Discern if your faith is genuine. I would also like to encourage you in another way. If, in the course of our talk this evening, you have been convicted of some areas of your life that don’t measure up to God’s standard, don’t despair thinking that you must not be a child of God. The fact that you see it and desire greater obedience to God shows that His Spirit is convicting and changing you.

The change that comes as the result of fellowship with God does not come all at once. As you abide in Him, your distinctiveness, love, obedience, and even your faith in Jesus will grow as God continues to transform you. Make your home in Jesus. If you are in the world now, you need to make a move. If you are in Jesus, stay there.