In this week’s message, “Jesus, Our Advocate,” Pastor Josh McPherson—Regional Director of Acts 29—leads us through 1 John 2:1-11, encouraging us to ask and answer the question, do we have the ‘mark’ of a gospel people? As we consider this important question we also reflect on the atonement, assurance of salvation, John’s fatherly purpose in writing this text, and the advocacy of King Jesus on our behalf.
2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Well good morning, Mars Hill Church. My name is Josh McPherson, lead pastor of Grace City Church over in Wenatchee. I’m also the regional director for Acts 29 Northwest and it is my joy, my privilege to be with you this morning. You feel like family. You’re family to me. I have a deep love for Pastor Mark. His family has blessed my family in a thousand ways the media will never report on or hear about. I love your leaders here. I love you. I’ve been personally blessed. My church has received much from your church, and for that we’re grateful. It’s easy for me to be here with you this morning. No place I’d rather be.
You need Jesus this morning? I need Jesus this morning. You want to open up the word? Let’s open up the word. 1 John 2 is where we’re going to be this morning. The Good Lord has a word for us here. And as you’re opening your Bible, I’d invite you to join with me in a word of prayer.
Father, we come before you now, needy, broken, hurting people, needing to be filled with your hope and healing power. That’s us any given moment of any given day. Whether we feel it or not, we are all broken, hurting, needy apart from Jesus. Lord, we come to you this morning with hearts hope-filled. No other place we could go. Like Peter would say, “Where else could we go, Jesus? To whom else could we turn?” We have nowhere else to run but to you, and to you then is where we come together this morning. To the foot of the cross, to the stone of the empty tomb, to the throne of heaven, we come. Jesus, would you meet with us? Would you meet us here? Would you help me to be helpful? Fill my mind, and heart, and mouth with truth. Would you give us wisdom and discernment to hear and receive, repent where needed, and respond to your word? Father, we need you to do what only your Holy Spirit can do. Not eloquent enough, or smart enough, or adequate enough to know, and understand, and comprehend all of the needs going on in the room. You know. We trust you in that. And as we open up your word, we ask that you would be upon the reading, and preaching, and teaching, and receiving, and hearing of your word to bring about Jesus’ fruit in the life of your church. For the glory of Jesus’ name we ask these things. And God’s people said together, amen.
There is a distinguishing mark of gospel people that separates them from all of the frauds, and all of the phonies, and all of the pretenders. John’s question to you this morning is, “Do you have it?” There is a distinguishing mark that sets gospel people apart. John’s question is, “Do you have the mark? Have you been set apart? Can you be distinguished from the frauds and the phonies by this mark?”
You don’t have to know a lot of things to do great things for Jesus. You don’t have to have vast pools of knowledge. You just need to know a very few things and be gripped by them, so much so that they turn you inside out, the reorient your world view, and you move forward from encountering them, unable to see anything else except through the lens of those few things through which you interpret, then, everything that happens to you and happens around you. And John’s going to take all of those things and he’s going to pack them into this book, specifically into this text this morning. Suffice to say, the things John puts on the table for us could not be greater and more worth our energy to comprehend, understand, process, appropriate, and apply to our lives this morning. We’re going to see John spell out the sine qua non of the Christian life. What he articulates here is simply, “Without which, nothing.”
We’re going to look at our text in three movements. The first movement, John’s fatherly purpose. John’s fatherly purpose. And we know John’s writing this letter at the end of his life.
You know what kind of clarity comes to the one who is nearing the end? My grandma went to be with Jesus 4 weeks ago, 5 weeks ago this Sunday. You know what kind of clarity she had nearing the end of her life that differed greatly from the things that I was thinking about and looking at at the time? Because when you’re nearing the end, all the secondary issues, and all the fluff, and the stuff, and the gunk just kind of falls away, and you’re able to see with a renewed clarity that which is ultimate. That’s the kind of perspective John’s bringing here.
He’s lived a pretty crazy life, right? I mean, you know, Son of Thunder, I mean, apostle. He spent 3 years with Jesus, sat at the Last Supper with Jesus. He was personal friends with Judas. John knows betrayal, John knows hurt, John knows pain, John knows relational conflict. He stood at the cross, Jesus dying before him, charging him to care for his mother. Exiled out to of the Island of Patmos, writes Revelation, writes the Gospel of John. I mean, like, John’s got a resume, right? The dude’s lived some life. What’s he going to say nearing the end to those he loved. Often times, preachers quote Baxter and they say, “Preach every sermon as if it was your last, a dying man to dying men and women.” And there’s a sense in which John’s preaching that kind of sermon here. Probably his last hurrah, not sure how much longer he’s going to be here. What’s he going to say in that moment, with crystal-like clarity nearing the end to those he loves?
Are you leaning in yet? Chapter 2, verse 1, “My little children.” Is that just kind of… [sighing] That’s the effect it’s supposed to have on your soul. This isn’t school yard marm. This isn’t, you know, junior high principals. This isn’t philosophical professor. This isn’t track coach screaming at you. This is loving, gentle, tender, affectionate Apostle John for his spiritual children. He has a tender, father-like love for them, meaning whatever comes after this, no matter how harsh it might sound or how—I mean, he’s going to draw some lines in the sand here for us. It’s coming from a place of deep, fatherly affection, so don’t lose sight of the, “My dear children,” when we get later in the text. “My dear children.”
Side note for parents. It’s free of charge this morning. Should we correct our children? Should we teach our children? Should we discipline our children? Absolutely, but to do any of those things disconnected from a deep and abiding love for them that they feel will be to bear the fruit of bitterness in their life and they’ll probably reject what you’re teaching. If they don’t feel how much you love them, they won’t love or care about what you’re teaching them.
And so John’s coming with a fatherly affection. He’s saying, “My dear children, I have much invested in you. I want the best for you, so whatever I’m going to say now is for your good because I love you.” And he says this, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” Preachers are always looking for the point of the text, you know? What’s the point of the text? Well, I think the point of the text, according to John, is that he’s writing these things that they may not sin. Pretty clear. Not a lot of rocket science going on here. “I love you like a father and I’m writing this that you may not sin.”
Now, why would he write that? Of all the encouraging things he could say, why would he put it in the negative like that? That’s why he writes this, because nobody John was writing to, nobody in this room, takes sin seriously enough. Nobody in this room takes their own personal sin seriously enough. You say, “Well, what is sin, Josh?” Thank you for asking. Let me help you out. Sin often gets categorized or classified as doing wrong things or not doing right things. That’s how our kids think of it. That’s how we often define it for them. That’s how we feel about it. So, if I want to stop sinning, I need to stop doing bad things. However, that’s not what sin is. That’s actually the result of the true sin. The true sin, or the sin underneath the sin, is not that you do wrong things. Rather, sin is that you want wrong things. You’ve never done anything in your life that you did not want to do, ever, ever once. Meaning, when we sin by doing wrong things or when we sin by not doing right things, we’re sinning ultimately because we don’t want to do what’s right and we, rather, want to do what’s wrong. Meaning, if we’re going to get at this sin issue, we have to address not the behavior of sin, but the wanter underneath the sin. Tracking? John is going after not behavior, but heart. Not actions, but worship. Not words, necessarily, but desires and orientations of the heart. Therefore when Paul says, “My dear children, I’m writing to you that you may not sin,” he’s going right to the very core of the issue. Nothing could be more fundamental than what John’s addressing here. He’s addressing the issue of worship, because sin ultimately is idolatry.
In fact, it’s an interesting note to strike and it really stands out in the book because he’s going along talking about love, and he’s contrasting love and hate, and light and dark, and truth and lies. And he’s kind of got this circular writing pattern. He’s not, you know, linear like Paul, like, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, therefore, so that. He just kind of comes back to the same thing, saying it a different way.
And then he gets to the very end of the book, and I hope I don’t rip off someone else’s awesome sermon here, but I’m going to—I’m in the pulpit, so I can do whatever I want, I guess, right now. And chapter 5, he gets to the very end and he ends with this sentence, “Little children, keep yourself from idols.” It’s like this weird—like, where’d that come from? “I’m writing that you may not sin, so keep yourself from idols,” or “Worship Jesus.”
“The explosive power of a new affection,” Chalmers wrote. If you are going to dislodge from the heart love for wrong things, it will create a vacuum which the heart will fill. Therefore, if you are to fight fire, you must use a hotter fire. If you’re to fight desires for wrong things, you must replace it with desires for better things. Therefore, to not sin and worship wrong things, it must be fought with cultivating a deeper hunger for something more beautiful and more satisfying than what you’re currently settling for.
Another John, John Owens, wrote about sin, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” There is no middle ground. There’s no third option. There are two options when it comes to sin. Either you will be warring against it and actively making war upon it or it will be actively making war upon you. Either you will be killing it or it will be killing you. No middle ground, no third option, no third way.
My closest friend, Pastor Adam, a fellow elder with me at Grace City Church here this morning with me, often talks about sin this way. I find it so helpful. We view sin so oftentimes like a jellyfish in the water that we can swim around, and look at, and ooh, and aah, and tentacles. And we know it’s poisonous, and we poke it with a stick, and every once in awhile we get too close and pew! Ahh, whoo! You know, rub it off and everything. Like, “That was crazy!” Thinking the whole time we’re in control of this moment, and in fact are able to actually enjoy it from a distance. That’s not the biblical picture of sin. The biblical teaching on sin is that sin is not a jellyfish. Rather, sin is like a shark, and you’re in the water, and you’re bleeding. It can smell you a mile away. It can find you in dark, murky waters, and it means to have you, and not in the biblical, loving way. I mean, it wants to tear you to shreds. Therefore, there is only one posture to take towards sin, and that is war.
That’s what John’s saying here. “My little children, I’m writing to you that you may not sin.” Interesting to note in chapter 1, he also gave a purpose clause. Verse 4, “I’m writing these things so that all of our joy may be complete.” Two purpose clauses or one? Two statements of one in the same thing, because for your joy to be complete you must move away from sin because sin robs joy, even as it offers the promises of it, because sin is deceptive.
So, John’s writing here and he’s giving us his fatherly purpose. He’s writing that we might not sin. However, there’s a problem here. Namely, you’re going to keep sinning, right? We know the desire’s for a sinless life, but until Christ returns, that will not be our reality. However, there is hope. We get to the second movement now, John’s gospel promise. So, John’s fatherly purpose. “I’m writing because I love you, that you might not sin.” John gives us now a gospel promise. Verse 1, “But if anyone does sin, we have—” and I’m going to set this up for you because first service missed it. You’re going to get a chance to clap, cheer, amen, do whatever you want here, okay? Because what I’m going to read next should draw that out, okay? So I’m just setting you up here. Can we do this? Okay. This is tee-ball right here. Just, here we go. “But if anyone does sin.” I’m not sure if anybody in this room falls in that category, but if there are one or two of you, “We have an advocate.”
You’re tracking. Okay, good. “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.” Yeah! “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Are you catching John’s global heart here? I mean, he’s focused on them individually as children, and then pulls out and he’s talking about the whole world, yo. He’s got a big heart. It’s a big-hearted text.
Why do saints sin? Because we’re fallen in our nature. We’ve been made new in Christ but still war with sin. The difference is this. In Christ, when we sin, we don’t delight in it and savor it succulent. We hate it. When we sin, we don’t boast about it, brag about it. It breaks our heart. We’re not like, “Yeah, you should have seen me last week, man! Whoo!” We’re not braggadocious about the enormity of our sin. When we sin, it breaks our heart.
So I just want to encourage you this morning, John’s not saying, “If you’re in Christ, you won’t sin.” Some of you are like, “Oh man, I’m screwed then.” No, no, you can be in Christ and still sin. The question is, do you hate it? Do you deplore that you sin? And if you do, then be comforted, church. You’re in Christ. You’re in Christ. The mark of the believer is not that they never sin, but that they hate their sin when they do and are increasingly growing in a quickness of reflex that moves to confession of sin and repentance before the cross because they have nothing to lose. I have nothing to lose in walking and living in the light. The only thing I can lose is keeping the darkness and that it might fester, and grow, and cause me more pain and suffering. Christ already lost everything so we have nothing to lose.
Spurgeon said it like this, “For the Christian after he has sinned, however sweet it may have been in his mouth, it quickly becomes bitterness in his bowels.”
Three components of John’s gospel promise. The first is the atonement component. Before you can understand Jesus as your advocate, you must understand Jesus as your atonement. He is the propitiation for our sins. Big, theological word. What does it mean? Propitiation simply means the removing, the absorbing, the receiving of wrath. We are right here at the heart of Christianity. We are right here at the guts of what it means to know and follow Jesus. Penal substitutionary atonement. Penal meaning punitive, substitutionary meaning in the place of, atonement meaning receiving something in my body from which the other should have received, but I’m doing it in their place. Now they are atoned for it. The debt has been paid. The wage that they incurred has been covered.
Spurgeon said it like this, “What the sun is to the heavens, the doctrine of vicarious substitution is to theology.” Atonement is the brain and spinal cord of Christianity. Take away the cleansing blood, and what is left? The guilty. Deny the substitutionary work of Jesus, and you have denied the gospel, and you have cut the throat of Christianity. Jesus’ propitionary work on the cross rises to our conscience level the passion of God for justice, the passion of God for his holiness, the passion of God to uphold his rightness, his righteousness.
Have you ever been vexed by the problem of God forgiving sinners? There are a lot of things to be confused about in our world today. There are a lot of problems to be stumped by. There are a lot of things to wrestle through. However, there is one problem that, if you have not wrestled with and been stumped by, you have not been paying attention, and it is how can a loving, yet just, righteous, holy God forgive sinners? Because the Bible, in Proverbs, says that it’s an abomination to justify the wicked, and God does it every day. We’ve got a problem on our hands here, unless there could be a way for God to be both the just and the merciful.
There’s this wrong notion floating around the church here at some places. It goes like this, “Well, God can forgive me because he loves me.” And it’s said in this sort of flippant, cliche, sentimental, cross-less tone, as if to say, “I mean, let’s just face it. I mean, I’ve got some rough edges, but I think for the most part God’s up in heaven going, ‘Dang, glad they’re on my team.’ I mean, what’s not to love? I mean, seriously, look at this hunk of burning love.” As if it was easy for God to love you because you’re so loveable. And so forgive, sure. Hey, we’ll just kind of wipe that off the slate, sweep it under the rug, no big deal, wink wink. That’s not how you’ve been loved by God. You don’t want to serve a God who winks at injustice, do you? So how can you serve a God who’s just to everyone else and merciful to you?
Oswald Chambers put it like this, “Very few of us know anything about conviction of sin. Oh, we know the experience of being disturbed because we’ve done a few wrong things and it makes us feel bad, but true conviction by the Holy Spirit blots out every other relationship on earth and makes us aware of one thing only. ‘Against you and you alone have I sinned,’ Psalm 51:4. When a person is convicted of sin in this way, he knows with every bit of his conscience that God would not dare forgive him. If God did forgive him, then this person would have a stronger sense of justice than God.” You tracking with what he’s saying? I don’t want God to just pass over Hitler’s sin. I want somebody to pay if there’s justice in the universe.
Now you got a problem. What’s God going to do when it comes to you? God does forgive, but it costs the breaking of his heart with grief in the death of Jesus Christ to enable him to do so. The great miracle of the grace of God is that he forgives sin, and it is the death of Jesus Christ alone that enables the divine nature to forgive and to remain true to itself while doing so. It is shallow nonsense to say that God forgives us because he is love. Once we have been convicted of sin, we will never say that again. The love of God means this alone, Calvary and nothing less. The love of God is spelled out on the cross and nowhere else. The only basis for which God can forgive me is the cross of Christ. It is there that his conscience is satisfied. It is there that he simultaneously becomes both the just and the justifier, proving that he does not sweep your sin, your cosmic rebellion under the rug. He kills it, he pours out wrath on it, and it’s called Jesus Christ crucified. Atonement.
Second piece of John’s gospel promise, advocacy. Other religions say, “Obey. If you sin, you’re sunk.” Christianity says, “Obey, and if you sin, you have an advocate.” Do you know what it means to have an advocate? It means Jesus stands before the Father as our defense attorney and speaks on behalf of you, the accused, to God the Judge.
If you’re charged with something— a little pastoral honesty here. My worst nightmare is to be falsely accused and thrown in prison. That’s my worst nightmare. And I’ve often thought—I was in law enforcement for several years, 6 years to be exact, and defense attorneys and law enforcement officers, that’s a relationship right there, right? Not so much. We do the hard work of putting them in jail, they do the hard work of getting the guilty off. That’s how it’s characterized, right? It’s like, what’s the deal with that? Now, I’m sure there’s lots of godly defense attorneys, maybe in this room right now. Jesus loves you. I don’t have to, he does, we’re good, okay. We’re tracking, right? Okay, we’re good. Stick to your notes, Josh. Stick to your notes. Okay.
When you’re charged with something and you stand before the judge, do you know what you look like to the judge? You look like whatever that defense attorney makes you look like. If he’s a stumbling schmuck, guess what? You’re a stumbling schmuck. If he’s wise and articulate, you appear wise and articulate because you’re lost into your advocate. Your destiny is in the hands of your advocate. Here’s how Jesus differs as the divine advocate over against many human advocates on the earth. It’s crazy how I never understood the penal system as displaying the powerful work of the gospel until I understood Jesus’ advocacy and actually came to love defense attorneys a lot more. Defense attorneys frequently deny the allegations brought against their clients, but Christ admits the charges against his clients. Defense attorneys, if they admit the charge, frequently seek to justify it: plea of ignorance, accidents, self defense. Christ does none of those. He makes no excuses. Defense attorneys attempt to influence the minds of the adjudicating parties. Christ seeks to influence not the judge, but the accused, because the judge’s mind will not be changed. Defense attorneys try to prove to the judge that their client is not guilty. Christ agrees with the judge the schmuck’s guilty, okay? So at this point, you’re like, “What kind of defense attorney is this? How is he helping me right now?” You cannot understand the advocacy of Christ until you understand the atoning work of Christ. I used to think—I used to picture Jesus’ advocating work like this: he’s up in heaven and he’s pleading for mercy. He’s asking God to give Josh a pass again. “Josh blew it. What else is new? I’m so sorry. I’m really working with him. He’s trying hard on Tuesdays and Fridays to follow you. Rest of the days, hit and miss. Stick with him. Let’s not kick him off the team yet. One more day.” And I used to think, like, “Will Jesus ever get tired of making excuses for me? Will Jesus ever get tired of defending me?” until I realized Jesus isn’t making excuses for me. Jesus, in his advocacy for me, isn’t defending me. Jesus is walking to the Judge’s table and saying, “On the basis of my atoning work, let him go free.” He’s walking to the table, and his advocacy is opening the propitiation portfolio and going, “Okay, I’ve got some pictures here. I’d like to enter into evidence this picture of these thorns here that got made into a crown, these pictures here of a lashing of my back, picture here of being mocked, and spitten on, and monkey trial, pictures here of some nails, my hands and feet, a bloody cross.” See what he’s doing? He’s appealing not to the mercy of God for your forgiveness, he’s appealing to the justice of God for your forgiveness. If we confess our sins, “He is faithful,” and merciful, kind, patient, what? “He’s faithful and,” say it, “just to forgive us our sins,” just a few verses earlier. Why? Because when Jesus says, “God, you’re just, you’re righteous, you’re holy, you do nothing that is wrong, and they have placed their faith in me. I absorb your wrath on their behalf. Therefore, you cannot punish them, because a righteous judge cannot issue two punishments for one offense. So God, be forgiving to them, be merciful to them because their wage has been paid in me.” That’s how Jesus advocates for us. Oh man! Can you feel the solidity of that defense? Can you feel the rock solid, impenetrable, air tight nature of that defense for you? Oh man! And so you can know that in Christ, God the Father will always and only be for you, never against you.
In Christ, Mars Hill Church, you can know that whatever you face, your marriage, your job, your kids, whatever you face, it is not judgment against you, it is not hatred from God against you, it is his loving hand of discipline as a father upon a son. It’s his. And then he loves. That should give you great confidence to wake up tomorrow and go into the day facing whatever may come. We have an advocate because we have a propitiator who purchased our atonement.
The third piece of John’s gospel promise is anyone. We have the atoner, we have the advocate, and we have the offered anyone. Many people say that, “Oh, this is a text meaning and teaching that Jesus’ sins covered the whole world, meaning no one dies, goes to hell, everyone wins in the end. No losers, all winners, everyone gets a blue ribbon. Whoo, thanks for playing! You’re awesome because you participated,” and that whole thing, right? My son started his first soccer team this year, 7 years old, and I went with a conviction that if they gave a blue ribbon just for participating, we would firmly reject it. No! Give a blue ribbon when he does something worth getting a blue ribbon for.
Some people say, “Well, this text means that God forgives everybody! Whoo!” Disconnected from their disposition to him, their love for him, their belief, their faith in him. Just live like the devil, do whatever you want to do, callously indifferent to God, die, then forgiven. The reason that’s an absurd interpretation of this text is because John does not teach that in the totality of his writing, either in the gospel nor in this letter. In fact, you’re going to spend the rest of the letter helping discern whether or not you’re in Christ or out of Christ, which would not make sense to do so if he thought, “In the end everyone will be in Christ, so who cares?” This text is not teaching universalism, but rather it’s teaching the universal reach of the gospel. Meaning the gospel is not nationalistic, it’s not specific to time, place, culture, country, land, socioeconomic status. The gospel is universal in its reach, universal in its offer. All who hear may come. And there is no other offer like that in the world. So in John unpacking the universal offer of the gospel, he is also narrowing it as the exclusive offer for salvation. He said so in his gospel the self—his gospel according to Jesus. “I’m the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through the door of my atoning work to their faith in me,” Jesus said. So this isn’t teaching universalism, teaching the universal offer, and power, and reach of the gospel.
First movement, John’s loving purpose. Second movement, John’s gospel promise. Last movement, John’s loving assurance.
John’s loving assurance. This is a wonderful claim. John’s going to tell us here that it is possible to know that you know that you know in your knower that God is for you. Anybody need to know that this morning?
You ever wake up—we got one sister, okay. I’m working on the rest of them.
You ever wake up just wondering, “Am I in? Did he see what I did yesterday?” And there is an instability that comes into the church when there is not gospel assurance. This doctrine of assurance was given not to placate guilty consciences, but to comfort those who would be plagued by a guilty conscience that Jesus wiped clean. So John’s saying there is a way for you to know, test yourselves. Spurgeon said, “If any man may not be sure he is in Christ, he ought not to be easy one moment until he is so. Dear friends, without the fullest confidence as to your safe condition, you have no right to be at ease, and I pray you may never be so. This is a matter too important to be left undecided upon. Full assurance is not essential to your salvation, but it is essential to your satisfaction in your salvation. May you get it. May you get it at once. At any rate, may you never be satisfied to live without it.”
And John wants you, Mars Hill, to be sure of God’s love for you. And if you’re here and not in Christ, this comforting word will be heard by you as a warning word by which God’s draws you to himself.
Two tests he gives us, the first is a behavioral test. Look at verse 3, “And by this we know that we have come to know Jesus, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar.” Not a buffoon, not poorly taught, not misdirected but well intentioned. “He is a liar and the truth is not in him.” This is loving, affectionate, Pastor Father John bringing a pretty hard word here because he loves them. Verse 5, “But whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure.” We may be sure. By this, Mars Hill, “You may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which Jesus walked.” Meaning there is an objective, external test to whether or not you’re in Christ and it’s called the fruit of your life.
Are your actions and words coming out of your heart reflecting that of one who is in Christ? Are you increasingly becoming less irritable, less fearful, less afraid, less selfish? Are you growing in compassion, self-control? If you don’t see yourself walking more and more like Jesus over time, you’re kidding yourself. And you can’t always see it, which means you need community. You need people around you who love you, who are anchored enough in their own identity in Jesus to speak hard words to you when you’re just out in the pawpaw patch.
Husbands, if I were to ask you how you’re doing as a husband, who’s the one person that doesn’t get to answer that question? You, right? If I said, “Hey, how are you doing as a husband?” the first thing you should say is, “I don’t know, let’s ask my wife.” Wise man, good job. Because you have blind spots, men, that you by nature and definition of blind spots— I know it’s really rocket science here—cannot see. All of us have those. Without community, children, marriage partner, friends, Community Groups, we will walk through life ignorant of our bad fruit. This fruit and tree thing, it’s like someone saying, “I’m a Georgia peach tree, man, I mean, all the way down to the roots,” and all that tree grows is crabapples. It’s like, “Look bro, I don’t know how to break it to you. I’m looking around here and I’m trying to tell myself that you’re a Georgia peach tree. Bro, all I see is a lot of crabapples. I’m going with crabapple tree.”
Fruit will grow according to the nature of the tree. “So, look at your life,” John says. Look at your character. Is it growing? Is it changing? Is it morphing more into Christ-likeness? Is there an increase in desire for godliness over time or is there an increased indifference toward godliness and an increase in selfishness. Acid test.
Second test number two that John gives us here is the relational test. I’ll never forget driving down the 405 with my dad. I was 6 maybe at the time. My brother was 4. I was sitting in the backseat of a little, teeny, dinky, Datsun—‘72—or a ’79 Datsun pickup king cab. And we’re flying down 405 about 45 miles an hour. And we’re driving down the road, and we pass—there’s a hospital off 405 in Bellevue. It’s—help me. Overlake, thank you. We’re driving by Overlake and my mom says, “Hey, there’s where your brother Carey was born.” And I go, “Booooo!” I go just like that, right? Right?
[imitates tires screeching]
My dad dynamites the brakes, pulls to the left of the road, and now we’re in a moment. We’re in a moment. This is a Cosby parenting moment. “I brought you into this world, I will take you out,” right? We’re there, right? I mean, that’s where we are now, my dad and I, and I realize he has just put our family at great risk to life and limb by pulling off the side of a busy freeway as cars streak past our vehicle, which means there must be something he deems is more important than our safety for him to communicate to me in this moment. So, I’m all ears at this point, right? I’m like, “You got my attention, Dad. Bring it to me, Pops. I’m here.” Over, turns around, and from a father to a son, traffic whizzing by, eyes blazing, “You never speak like that again towards your brother. He’s family. He’s McPherson. He’s on our team. We only encourage. We only love. We only build up. We only root. We don’t tear down. We don’t mock. We don’t make fun of. We don’t undermine. We don’t snicker. We don’t behind the back. We are a team. We’re family. Don’t ever let that happen again.” I remember that moment. I can feel that moment right now as I’m telling this story. I can’t hear the words I-405 without going, “Whew. Need to call Carey and tell him I love him, just to make sure dad knows we’re good.”
There’s some of that in this text. There’s some of that in the papa father heart of John going, “Man, love each other, you guys.” Love each other, you guys. That’s the acid test of your gospel Christianity. Not how much you can rattle off the top of your head, or verses you can point to, or memorizations you can spit out, or books you were—do you love one another? Look at verse 7. “Beloved, I’m writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” Hear that word, Christian. Because of Jesus, the darkness is already in process of being conquered and being moved away. You have all sorts of reasons for hope this morning. Now what’s this new commandment? Well, I’m going to cheat because a good preacher never preaches a text in front of him to the detriment of the pastor to follow him, but I can go to the gospel and cheat a little here with chapter 13. What’s his new commandment? From the words of Jesus himself, “Little children,” Jesus says, “a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as you have been loved by me, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”
The acid test of your Christianity is not your theological prowess, but your affection for brothers and sisters in Christ. We lose this, church, we lose everything. We lose everything. You don’t have to have a great website to be a great church. I say that to the consolation of myself. Don’t look up GraceCityChurch.com. You need great love to be a great church. What does it mean to walk in darkness? Verse 9, “Whoever says he is in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” Contrasting light and darkness connected to your hatred or love for your brothers and sisters in Christ.
What does it mean to hate a brother or a sister in Christ? Three ways to define hate. Hate can be trying to harm someone, like murder them. Which I think we’re all pretty much in agreement that’s wrong? Just give me a nod of the head. We’re good? Awesome. Second definition of hate, wishing or wanting harm to come to someone. Third definition of hate, probably the most insidious. There’s trying to harm, there’s wishing to harm, and then there’s just cool, cold hard indifference to whether or not harm comes to them. Whatever, I could care less. That’s hatred. That’s hatred. John would say you’re walking in darkness and not in the light of the love of Christ if you wish a brother or sister ill will, if you want to see a brother or sister pay for their sin, if you keep detailed records of wrong and always look for an opportunity to bring it out and hang it over their head, if you regularly assume the worst, if you regularly see someone else’s sin but remain simultaneously blind to your own eyes.
Who’s experts at this? Your children. At least mine are. I’ve got 4: 9, 7, 4, 2. Guess what we hear a lot in our home? “Dad, Dad, Dad, Amelia, blank, blank, blank, blank, Ella Mae blank, blank, blank. You wouldn’t believe what Gideon blank, blank, blank,” right? In that moment, I’m not concerned about just one child, the perpetrator. I’m worried about the state of my two children’s hearts, what’s in the heart of the violator and what’s in the heart of the one reporting the violation, needing to make sure that the violator gets taken out. I don’t want to bring justice to one and simultaneously cultivate self-righteousness in the other. So, good parents pay attention to both the violator and the one who feels the need to wave the flag for the violation.
You are not quick to confess your sin or repent of it, but instead blame, minimize, shift, justify. You’re not quick to forgive others, you nurse and carry grudges. You find delight and glee in others’ struggle and pain. If someone else’s sin is exposed, you feel more self-righteous about yourself. You’re vindictive. You always need to set the record straight. You’re always working hard to protect your own reputation and you are easily and quickly filled with self-pity, which Chambers says is demonic. Self-pity is demonic for the Christian because the Christian in Christ has everything, all the treasures in heaven, the inheritance of God the Father given to him. Simultaneously saying, “Woe is me,” means there is a massive disconnect between our reality in Christ and what we’re currently experiencing. There should be no self-pity in the Christian life.
So what does it mean to walk in the light? I’ll just encourage you to do this. I know about three of you will. Go read Romans 12:9 today, 9 through 21, and let your heart be washed with Paul’s exhortation of how to love brothers and sisters in Christ. Why would John emphasize loving our brothers over loving those in the world? Here’s why. Isn’t loving the lost important? Isn’t loving the world important? Isn’t loving those out there that don’t yet know Christ, isn’t that the big deal? Isn’t that the big idea of the Bible? Yes, that’s important. However, John ignores that crowd and zeros his exhortations in on this crowd because he’s saying if you are unable to love the people in here, you will be unable to genuinely love the people out there. If you don’t have a genuine and ever-increasing love for the brothers and sisters in Christ around you, you will have no gospel credibility when you go to love those outside the family of God. In fact, if all they see out there is you bickering in here, why would they want to come in? You say, “Well, some people are hard to love.” Yeah, so are you. Don’t quickly forget where you were when God found you in Christ. So this issue of loving our brothers and sisters in Christ has a missional credibility component because Jesus said, “They’ll know you’re my disciples distinctly by your love for one another, even when it’s hard to love each other,” which is probably most of the time in the church. Because when you love easily lovable people, not much gospel witness comes from that. But when you love those who are hard, there’s all sorts of gospel witness in that. This is why we live in community, because biblical mission does not look like us living isolated, independent lives, free from stickiness or conflict, standing on street corners screaming that people are going to hell. Biblical mission looks like us living together in community, sinning, repenting, confessing, applying the gospel to each other, and then inviting the lost world in to see how we do that, because that’s supernatural. That’s why your elders are wise in organizing you in Community Groups, because they’re forcing you into relationships that you might not otherwise naturally have, that will boil to the surface your idolatry, your sin, in which you can then have the gospel applied to, praise the Lord, that you would have never seen had you isolated yourself away from God’s community.
I’m in a Gospel Community myself, and it’s a sticky mess most of the time, and it’s glorious. We tell our Gospel Community leaders, when stuff hits the fan in your Community Group, that’s good news! And they don’t believe me yet, but I keep telling them that. Because in that moment that person’s waving the red flag, “I don’t believe the gospel here. I need Jesus here. Please, somebody come preach to me the gospel and help me see what I’m not believing to be true about God the Father, and Christ the Son, and who I am because of the work they’ve done for me,” because all sin is rooted in unbelief, right? Oh, community is the glorious training room for applying and believing the gospel.
Lastly, land the plane. How do you love those who are hard to love or even hate you back? This is rubber meets the road, right? You remember, Christian, the next time you’re struggling with loving someone, a brother, a sister in Christ, God has already forgiven the sin that you currently want to hold against them. You remember, Christian, that their advocate is your advocate. You remember, Christian, when you’re attempting to love someone difficult, that you apart from Christ were difficult yourself to love. You’ve never met a more lovable person than yourself when God found you apart from Christ. Therefore, John’s saying if you are in Christ, you have the ability to tap into a power source that’s supernatural in your ability to bend it outward and love those who are unlovable. You can love as if this is a new command now because Jesus has come and raised the bar so completely that when he said, “Love others,” in the Old Testament, it’s completely different than what it means now for you to love others because of what Jesus has done for you. The atoner, the advocate offered to anyone is here. Because you can’t remember the gospel and hold a grudge at the same time. They’re mutually exclusive. Only one can fill your heart. If a grudge is there, you can’t be remembering that Jesus paid for the grudges you hold on the cross. But if Jesus and the atoning work of his sacrifice on the cross is there in your heart, welling over, there is no room for grudge, no room for bitterness, no room for envy, no room for selfishness, no room for jealousy, no room for whatever else is trying to get in there, because it’s full of gospel. And then you begin supernaturally walking like Jesus walked.How could you wish others ill when you yourself have been exonerated? There should be an almost giddy glee rippling through this church. Never should there be an attitude in the church that’s accusatory saying, “Hey, how did you get in here? Seriously?” Rather, there should be reflective, “How did I get in here?” that grows to a collective, “How did we get in here? This is crazy!” Then and only then will the table be set for true love to be expressed and experienced in the church because the gospel of Jesus Christ gives you the supernatural ability to love the unlovable. In fact, I would go so far as to say God intentionally brings unlovable people into your life as a means of grace by which it forces you to dig out the well of grace that God has poured out on you, that you might begin discovering how much you actually have in Christ, otherwise you’d forget. The acid test of a gospel people is their love for brothers and sisters in Christ.
I’ll end with this short story. Four children, my oldest, Ella Mae, nine years old, born with spina bifida. Paralyzed from the waist down. Shunt in her brain keeping her alive as we speak. Thousands of implications physically, emotionally in her life, of which you have loved us well, given us many gifts along the way. Levi, healthy. Amelia, healthy. Gideon, born 2 years ago, spina bifida. Not hereditary, lightning hitting twice. That’s my family story and it radically shapes the narrative we live in. For 9 years, my daughter has been forced to see only how she’s different, only what she can’t do and what she can’t participate in, and where she can’t go, and who she can’t hang out with. Her limitations shape her life. And this might seem small for you, but for a parent, this was huge. My daughter had never ridden a bike. And you probably never even thought about that with your kid. I wouldn’t have thought about it until they can’t do it, and then it’s like, “Oh man, why can’t my daughter ride a bike?” “How come my legs don’t work, dad?” We found a bike that would work for her, use the arms. We’re going to buy it. Went to purchase it online. The price tag for this bike that could unleash my daughter’s freedom, $7.3 billion. I mean, roughly there. I’m exaggerating a little bit. Might as well have been to us, right? I mean, like, what do you they make the thing out of, diamonds and gold? You know man, come on, seriously. And so we’re like, “Well, we can’t do it,” and we decide we’re going to dip into savings. We’re going to hive off a huge portion of our savings and we’re going to get this done for our daughter. Go down to the store, order it, 2 months to make it, and the night before we go get it, Ella Mae comes to our room, 11:30. “Mom, Dad, I can’t sleep. I’m so excited. I’m going to ride a bike tomorrow. Will I really get to feel the wind in my hair?” she says. She’s 9. “What if it doesn’t work? What if I can’t do it? Will I get to ride with my friends at the park if it works? I don’t want to eat anything, Dad, I’m so nervous.” “It’s okay, babe. Go back to bed. We’ll have an emotional, sentimental moment in the morning. Right now, I’m trying to sleep.” Wakes up early, 6 o’clock in the morning. Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t eat, nervous, butterflies in her stomach. We go to the store, rolls the bike out, there it is. She gets on it and we strap her on. “Okay babe, try the pedals.” And she takes off across the parking lot about 100 miles an hour, the whole time yelling as she goes, “I’m free! I’m free!” She’s circling the parking lot about 73 times doing 110 miles an hour around the corners. I mean, she’s just like,
[imitating cars zooming around a track]
And she rolls in here… We go, “How is it, babe?” She’s like, “I love it, Dad. I feel free. When I’m on this bike, it’s like I totally forgot I had spina bifida, Dad.” We go to pay the bill, “No need for that. No bill.” “What do you mean no bill?” “It’s been paid.” “What?” I go up to Ella Mae. I go, “Ella Mae, you’re not going to believe this, sweetie pie. Someone paid for your bike.” She goes, “Oh, you mean it’s free?” I got down on my knees because I wasn’t going to miss this moment. I said, “No babe, it’s not free. It was costly, but it’s free to us.” She goes, no joke, “Oh, like substitutionary atonement?” I mean, like, pow! I said, “That’s right, babe. It was free to us, but it wasn’t cheap.” And when you find it hard to love—you got names and faces in your mind right now: brother, sister, aunt, uncle, friend, Community Group member, spouse. When you find it hard to love, you get on the gospel bike. Oh man, because when you’re on the gospel bike, you’re free. It’s like, “I forget I have spina bifida, Dad!” And when you’re on the gospel bike, the bike that came at great cost to purchase by the Son, given to you freely, it gives you a whole new perspective on life and it gives you a power to draw from that enables you to love in a way that makes Jesus look good. Because the distinct mark of a gospel people, of a gospel church, isn’t their theological prowess. It’s their love for one another.
Father, would you drive this truth deep into our hearts, even now. Would you be here with us, bringing hope, bringing light, bringing life. We have a propitiator, we have an advocate, therefore we have reason for hope and we have access to power to draw from, from which we can love even the most unlovable, like we were. Father, when we find it hard to love, would you remind us of the cross and the free gift of grace that came at great cost to you, that when we were unlovable, you loved us in order to make us lovely. And then may we draw from that power source to love in a way that can only be described as supernatural and Christ-like. For the glory of Jesus’ name we pray these things, amen.