1 John: Testing the Spirits

Announcements:  Building is coming along.

  • This is from the inside looking out through the front entrance into the parking lot.
  • When you walk into the building – immediately to the right you’ll see three rooms taking shape – the first is the kitchen, and then two classrooms for children’s ministry –
  • If you turned from the kitchen area and looked into the middle of the lobby.
  • from the middle of the lobby looking into the sanctuary or auditorium area
  • if you turned around from there you’ll see three more classrooms taking shape – each of those windows will be a room – grades 5/6 on the left, 3/4 in the middle, and 1/2 at the end on the right.
  • Then looking out the back of the lobby into our outdoor venue – beautiful.

Now – we are looking for help – we are planning to plant trees on November the 6th – and we’re looking for people who can help us do that.  We will have a bobcat digging the holes but need some folks who can help us get those trees planted.  If you are interested – will you either mark your communication card.  Or you can text me at 402.676.7731.  Email us at Phil@journeychurchne.org.

Sermon:

Now – this morning we are nearing the end of our series on the book of 1st John.   This letter was the first letter that the apostle John – when he wrote this he was the last living disciple – he wrote this in his older age – and he is writing to the church in general – including this one, by the way.   He is a pastor at heart and wants to encourage and teach and challenge and also – warn them when danger lurks.

I thought we’d start this talk off today with a little test.  It’s called can you spot the fake?

Let’s start with a $100 bill.  Which of these is a fake?  Are you sure enough to rip it up?  The answer is – a note to our tellers – please take it to a bank before you start ripping it up.  Let them do the work…

Maybe you’re better at spotting fake $20 bills?  Which of these are fakes?

Is this person on the roadshow about to be rich or heartbroken? $600 bucks.  I feel bad for this person especially – that painting was purchased in 1850 at an auction and cherished and handed down generation after generation – only to discover it’s essentially worthless.

How about this person?  $800k

Which of these is a real diamond and which is cubic zirconia?

How would you know?  You have to test them.  Inspect them.  You have to bring them to an expert.

Now I bring this up because – the Apostle John is the expert on Christianity.  He was one of Jesus closest friends.  He saw him live and teach and do miracles- he watched him die on the cross and buried in a tomb and he witnessed Jesus raised to life again.

And what we’re going to read today is John imploring his readers – to make sure the faith we are holding onto is the real deal.  Watch out for counterfeits.  And this morning we are going to read about three areas John specifically mentions that we should be on the lookout for fakes.

Knowing the difference between the real thing and the fake thing is important in life, and especially important when it comes to the faith.  Is your faith like a diamond?  Or is what you believe to be true about God Cubic Zirconia.  Will it hold you up in time of need or will it chip and break easily?

This morning we are going to hear Pastor John implore us to test the spirits.  Three things that he wants us to put under the microscope – to test for authenticity.  He doesn’t want us relying on a faith that will chip easily.

So let’s read the first part of John’s letter to discover the first of three false spirits to be discarded upon inspection.  Putting the kibosh on Three false spirits.  And they are – False religions, false guilt, and fear.

4 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

Okay friends – the first spirit we’re going to put the kibosh on is the spirit of false teaching.  John has gone to great length in his five chapters to describe to us the reality that Jesus was a real human being.  John knew him and touched his body – he was not a ghost or a spirit.  He really died.  He was actually buried as a dead man.  Three days later he came back to life.

Why is it so important to John?  Because it is the essence of the Good news.  John writes in his gospel that the word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.

God became man – named Jesus.  He actually lived as a human being.  Was actually put to death – why?  In order to pay the debt we could never have paid on our own.  Why?  So that we might be able – through faith in Jesus – to be ushered into the Kingdom of Haven – where we get to walk with God once again.

See – if you go all the way to the beginning of the bible – in Genesis chapter 1, and 2 and 3 – you find this beautiful description of God created man and woman and enjoying their presence with him in the Garden of Eden.

They lived in the garden together – and what do we know about Adam and Eve – they were naked and unashamed.  No need to hide from one another or from God.  There they were!  And God would visit them – and they recognized his footsteps – they heard him when he stopped by to visit – and they knew him – they lived the with God life – loving one another – and together loving God.

But we know the story – Adam and Eve decided to do things their way – they de-godded God and took his place – and the result – immediate result, by the way – was shame.  Was guilt.  Was hiding.  Was fear.

Sin immediately wrecked the “with God life”.  And exactly two kids later – in what has been described the history of the world in a nutshell – Cain is waving off God and murdering his brother Abel.

But God was not pleased with losing his friends, and set into motion a plan that would once and for all deal with the issue that had come between God and humanity.  The issue was sin – the issue was justice!  For the penalty of treason was and still is the death penalty.

So God decided to pay the debt himself.  And Jesus left heaven and was an actual human being.  The sentence was that all of humanity would suffer the guilty punishment for our sins against God.  And so Jesus said – I will pick up the debt – I will pay the fine – I will die the death that justice required.

If Jesus was not a human being – then he had no rights to declare that he would pick up the penalty.  If he didn’t die – then the sentence wasn’t carried out.  If he wasn’t raised again, then we are still in our sins and to be pitied.

But he was raised to life – as a sign that God received the payment – The resurrection is the proof of purchase – it’s the receipt.  And that we now have a case against anyone who would declare us guilty before God.  Jesus is now the one who pleads our case – and he isn’t crying out for mercy on our behalf – he is crying out for justice – the death has been died.  The debt has been paid.  It would be criminal to require they pay it twice.

And now – through faith in Jesus – what is restored to us?

See many people think – if I trust Jesus then my reward is in the future – when I die I get to go to heaven – but listen – the reward is immediate – right now – you are ushered back into the garden – where you get to walk with God the rest of your life.

We can live without guilt and shame.  We can live free to love one another freely – the Bible describes to us the church being the kind of community where we can live with one another in freedom – no need to hide, or blame, or posture – no – instead there is true love and respect and encouragement and life.

Now John wants that for us!  And nothing short of that.  And already – while John is still alive – there are false religions coming along using the name of Jesus.  John doesn’t want us for fake religions that use the name of Jesus but don’t preach the gospel of the New Testament.

Friends – then and now there are religions who want to deny the actual life and death and resurrection of Jesus.  I remember one time I was sharing a ride to the airport on a shuttle and the person I was riding with said she was there for a conference at the Unity church in Omaha.  I asked about the church and she told me – we believe Jesus was a very good teacher who lived a very positive life and example for us all.  I asked her why he died on the cross?  And she had no answer.  Jesus was and is meaningless in their religion.

Not every religion that calls itself a church is a Christian church.  John says, “Test the Spirits!  Test the doctrine! Otherwise you might end up with a cubic zirconia faith that chips and fails under pressure.  Or worse, a faith that at the end of days you discover – that although it’s been cherished and passed along from generation to generation – to discover at the end of the day it’s essentially worthless.

How do you know?  Take it to the expert – John here is an expert – and he says – here are some signs it’s counterfeit – if any group denies that Jesus came in the flesh.  Any religion that says that Jesus was a man who became a God, is getting it wrong.  Jesus is a God who became a man.  Any religion that teaches you that YOU can become a God is not Christianity –

Don’t be fooled – There are plenty of religious systems that use the name of Jesus and incorporate the word church – test the spirits against what the Bible claims to be true.

Does it sound like I’m being harsh?  I hope not.  I am doing the same thing John thought was important.  He is begging us to test the spirits – does what we are hearing match up to what John and the disciples are teaching?  Does what I say match up to what the Bible teaches?  Put it under the microscope and compare.  He would hate for us to fall into the clutches of religion.

Let’s test the spirits and put the kibosh on false spirits that want to rob us of the “With God Life”.

Secondly – I want to go back to chapter three and see an interesting spirit that John wants us to test.  It’s the spirit of a guilty heart.  Let’s put an end to false guilt.

1 John 3

19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 

What in the world is John talking about?  John wants us to understand that sometimes your heart will make you feel guilty about something you have no business feeling guilty about.

I remember at one time we had a billboard here in Gretna and it said – lFaith is a Journey not a Guilt trip.  And I had a friend approach me – she didn’t go to Journey but she said I saw your billboard and I’m curious – are you targeting Catholics?  She asked?  I said not at all – she said well, you know we catholics are famous for feeling guilty all the time.  And all I could say was – that’s too bad.

But it’s not just catholics – when I started in ministry as a youth pastor we had a summer pool part and I brought a boom box and put some music on and the kids turned ashen and looked around in guilt.  Turn that off!  The Senior Pastor’s wife forbid music – she said Rock and roll is of the devil!

And I thought – first of all – am I on the set of footloose here?  And then I told the kids – listen – first of all – it’s not rock and roll – I’s Amy Grant!  And then – did Jesus die to make us feel guilty all the time?  What gives?

Like my friend – those kids were taught to feel guilty about something they had no reason to feel guilty about.

John is teaching us that our conscience cannot be trusted.  It too has been broken by sin.  According to the bible our conscience is NOT infallible.  It can steer us wrong.

Some peoples conscience are healthier than others and God often does speak to us through our conscience, but – since it’s not infallible – we need to test the spirit of our conscience.

Because sometimes it doesn’t work when it ought to work.  Sin has a way of callousing up our conscience – and it no longer feels conviction about something that maybe we should feel convicted about.

I’ve had the unfortunate conversations with people who are neck deep in sin – and yet, they tell me – my conscience is clear – I don’t feel in the least bit guilty or convicted or – in fact I feel close to God.

2 Timothy 1:7 says our consciences can become seared.  Titus 1:15 says our consciences can become corrupted.

Some have overactive consciences and others are under-active – how do you know then how to think about our actions?  You take them to the expert and match it up against scripture.

Now John here in this letter seems to be addressing those with overactive consciences – they feel guilty all the time.  Especially when it comes to past sinful choices – past sinful actions – those things – once we bring them to the Lord – are erased.

Isaiah 38:17

In your love you kept me
from the pit of destruction;
you have put all my sins
behind your back.

Isaiah 43:25  “I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake
and will never think of them again.

Listen – some of you have been raised thinking that all God thinks about is your sin.  Well, he’s got better things to do.  Your sins are history!  It’s old news.  God is never going to think about them again.  SO it’s okay to put the kibosh on a conscience that wants to rob you of the joy of living with God without shame.

Jesus has paid the price to set us free – so why then is your heart trying to make you feel terrible about yourself?

See – Jesus paid to deliver to you the With God life.  And you don’t need to flog yourself anymore – Jesus took the flogging for you.  We confess our sins to God and are cleansed of all unrighteousness.

Test the spirits – we are putting the kibosh on spirits that want to keep us from the joy of the With God life that Jesus made available to all who will place our faith in him.

And that means putting the kibosh on the spirit of false religions and check box religiousity.  And it means testing our conscience to see if it’s lining up with scripture and the joy of forgiveness through the work of Jesus.

Lastly – let’s turn to 1 John 4:17,18

17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Perfect love drives out fear.  Can I share with you Adams very first words that he shares with God after Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s leadership?

genesis 3:10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

What do you see in this verse?  Shame – so he hid.  And fear – I was afraid.  Never before had Adam and Eve felt any kind of fear when it came to being with God.  The with God life in the garden meant they walked with one another as friends.

Do you realize that Jesus paid so great a price to deliver to us a life without fear?  Even if we were to be asked to walk through the valley of the shadow of death itself, we fear nothing.  Because God is with me.

The with God life!  A life without guilt.  Without fear.  Without check box religion.  Jesus has paid the price for us to return to the garden of Eden.  where we can once again live without fear.

Psalm 27:1

The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?

Isaiah 12:2
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.”

Isaiah 41:13

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

Luke 12:32

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  What is the Kingdom?  It’s the return to the Garden – right now – you get to live with God every day.  What will you fear?

Romans 8

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 

Now we turn our attention to the communion cup.  We remember the price Jesus paid, and we celebrate the good news.  The With God Life is available to us all through faith IN Jesus Christ.  We are invited into a life where there is no need to flog ourselves for our sins – Jesus took it for us.  And through his work on the cross, our sins are thrown behind God’s back.  Swept away like mist.  Our sins are never thought of by God again –

One last verse for us to think about today, back to Isaiah 44:22

I have swept away your sins like a cloud.
I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist.
Oh, return to me,
for I have paid the price to set you free.”