When I was in college and seminary, I was a writer – I preferred writing assignments that required thinking and writing on a particular topic. I was definitely not a test-taker – I would routinely do poorly when taking tests. My brain works better if I can ruminate and percolate on a topic and then write logically and come to a conclusion over a period of time and thinking. My brain does not excel at memorizing facts and then recalling them at a later time and date. So when I was in school and there was a test, I was hoping it was an essay test, and not a multiple choice test. Writing tests were where I excelled. Certainly some of this had to do with my learning style and just the way that I’m wired, and also my ability to use words to make it sound like I knew what I was talking about – even if I didn’t!
This Sunday at Riverview we’re beginning a sermon series in the book of 1 John, and 1 John is all about a test. But don’t worry, it’s not a multiple choice test, and there’s no fill in the blank section or essay question. Instead, 1 John presents us with a test of the heart. In fact, that’s John’s whole purpose for writing this letter. In 1 John 5.13, at the end of the letter he says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” The whole letter that John wrote is designed to be a litmus test of the heart on the basics of the Christian faith so that his readers can know for certain that they are in the faith.
Why did John’s readers need a test of faith to help them see if they were walking in the truth? Because there were all sorts of other worldviews and philosophies out there that were competing for their allegiance. And the scary thing was that these false teachings had a distinctly Christian flavor to them. In John’s day there were several false teachings that looked a little like the biblical gospel, but were different enough that they excluded a person from having actual saving faith. There were heresies and false teachings that drew people from the true faith, and so John gives his readers a series of tests so they can see and know that they are truly converted and are truly saved, and not falling into heresy.
In 1 John 2.21-26 John describes false teachers who apparently are teaching weird things about Jesus – unbiblical notions about his humanity and divinity, which, if either of those are out of wack, so is your gospel. And if your gospel is out of wack, so is your faith. Some of these heresies claimed that Jesus wasn’t actually a man, or that Jesus wasn’t actually God, or some combination of the two. And again, when you begin to tweak some of the foundational doctrines about who Jesus is and what he has done, you begin to tweak the message of the gospel. And how much does the gospel need to be tweaked before it’s no longer the biblical gospel? Not much!
If you change who Jesus is, you go from saving faith to damning faith, which is faith in a false god, which is no faith at all. So part of what John is doing with this letter is providing a corrective to his readers: he’s giving them tests so that they could know that they were knowing and following the true Jesus – the same one that John had known (see 1 John 1.1-4).
And it seems to me that this is something that we need in our day and age as well, because our culture is likewise trying to distort who Jesus was, both as God and as a man. There are all sorts of philosophies and worldviews circulating in our society that sound something like the gospel, but in reality are no gospel at all. For example, there are streams of Christianity in our country that would call us to disregard what the Bible clearly says is wrong, and approve what the Bible clearly says is sin. This is tampering with the doctrine of sin and the message of the gospel, and the consequences are devastating. So we, like John’s readers, need a corrective –a test – that will let us know that we are knowing the true Jesus of the Bible, and not a Jesus of man’s invention – one that is more culturally palatable and easier to swallow. We’ll dig in to it together starting April 12.
One new feature of this sermon series is going to be that we are going to open up for questions on the sermon content or on the sermon scripture. In other words, if you listen to the sermon and have questions about anything said or about the text we’re preaching on for a certain week, email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll answer some of them in a blog post during the next week.