Questions @ RBC: April 12, 2015

This week begins a new feature at Riverview, as our members and attenders were invited to engage the content of the week’s sermon and scripture via email.  Everyone is invited to participate each week as we engage God’s word together.  This week’s sermon was titled “That You May Know” and came from 1 John 1.1-4.

1. How do I know I’m experiencing Jesus?

In the opening verses of his letter, John emphasizes that he is authoritative in what he has to say about Jesus because he actually knew Jesus.  He says that he saw him, heard him, and touched him.  John goes on to say that his desire is for his readers to know Jesus like he knew him – to experience his power on a regular, personal basis.  But since we live 2000 years after Christ walked the earth, we are not able to hear, see, or touch him.  So then, how do 21st century believers experience Jesus on a regular basis?

In her 2004 book Jesus Calling, Sarah Young records actual conversations that she says she had with Jesus.  But this is not the kind of experience with Jesus that Christians should pursue or expect to have.  How do we know that?  Because nowhere in the Bible does it tell Christians to expect to have personal, back and forth conversations with the Son of God.  And that’s the point: the Bible determines how believers are to experience Christ in their daily lives – the Bible delineates how we encounter Christ (and conversely, how we do not encounter Christ).  Put simply, Sarah Young never had those conversations with Jesus, and I know that to be true because her experience of Jesus does not line up with how the Bible says believers are to experience Jesus.

We can know that we’re experiencing Jesus when we encounter him within the parameters the Bible has laid out.  So how does the Bible describe experiencing Jesus on a daily basis?  By fighting temptation, warring against sin, pursuing holiness, loving others, and pushing on toward obedience to Christ and his word.  By prayer and discipline we win these battles and devote ourselves to the things of God and grow in through the power of the Spirit.  This is experiencing Jesus according to the Bible.  The believer is experiencing Jesus when he or she is working in unison with the Holy Spirit to become more and more like Christ, not through some kind of mystical or otherworldly way.  If you want to know if you’re experiencing Christ, read your Bible and compare your experience to the one scripture lays out. 

2. What makes a false teacher false and not just wrong?

All of us are wrong about things.  We aren’t perfect, so we make errors and mistakes.  But when we realize those mistakes we correct them and move on toward the truth.  If a person is teaching something that is espoused to be false, is shown the error of his ways, repents, and begins to teach the truth, he is not a false teacher – he is merely wrong, and has received correction.  This is the fundamental element that is lacking in a false teacher and what he or she espouses.  When shown his error, the false teacher disregards correction and doubles down on his original (wrong) ideas and teachings. 

 3.What are some common false teachings today that we should be aware of?

The main false teachings of John’s day were Gnosticism and Docetism.  In brief, Gnosticism taught a sharp distinction between the physical and the spiritual, and asserted that matter (physical stuff, like the body) was inherently evil and the spirit was good.  Gnostics denied that Jesus was human, because how could he be human if matter was evil?  Docetism is similar to Gnosticism, but asserted that Jesus only appeared to have a physical body but in reality was just spirit.  John refuted both of these heresies by saying that he had seen, heard, and touched Jesus for himself.  He knew that he was real.  He knew that he was human.  If Jesus had not been human, as these false teachings espoused, then his atonement for sin would not be sufficient, because if he were not human, he would not have been able to be tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4.15).  Adherents to these false teachings in John’s day claimed that deeds done in the body did not carry a spiritual consequence. 

False teachings in our day are just heresies like Gnosticism and Docetism, but wrapped up in different packages.  In John’s day, Gnostic teachings persuaded people that their physical actions and behavior had no spiritual consequences.  This is almost identical to the societal consensus of our day and age that asserts a person can do whatever he or she wants with his or her body and remain a “good person.”  Or that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you don’t hurt someone else.  These notions are directly contradictory to scripture.  Any modern teachings that espouses that physical actions have no spiritual consequence are lies, and should be avoided at all costs. (See Luke 6.45)

4. How do I view my experience rightly and keep away from feelings determining my grade – pass or fail – on the objective standard test?  Especially knowing all I do and have done has a mixture of good and bad motives and desires.  On one day I can look at my experiences and say I’ve passed while on other days I feel like I could have faked those same experiences…even to myself.

The answer to his question is very similar to number one, above.  The important difference is that we can never use our feelings as an accurate gauge of how we’re doing in our Christian walk.  As sinful human beings, we have a tendency to see ourselves in a positive light.  That is, we tend to think the best of ourselves.  Your feelings will always lead you astray, and are therefore not an accurate guide for evaluating your Christian walk and/or your experience of Christ.  In order to judge yourself rightly, you need an objective standard by which to judge.  The Bible declares that scripture is that objective standard.  So if you are going to judge your experiences rightly, it must be done in accordance with scripture.  If and when you find your motives and desires out of step with the Bible, repent, and ask God to help you adjust them to be in line with his word.