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Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries

 

Fake or Real?   Audio

1 John 2:3-27

How do you spot a fake? You see a post on social media telling you about some new discovery, some whizz bang way of making money, or sure fire way of getting fit, being healthy, living longer, but how do you know if it’s real. How many times have you had a friend request on Facebook and realised that that person was already your friend? Steve sent out a text message last week saying be careful because someone was pretending to be him on email. We live in a world of fakes and sometimes it can be hard to recognise them from reality.

Well, clearly, from today’s reading, you don’t need to have Facebook to be faced with fakes. John writes to his friends to warn them about fake Christians and to help them be sure that they themselves are the real thing.

I’ve met people over the years who were not quite sure if they were up to the mark as Christians. They weren’t sure that they believed enough or understood enough or were faithful enough. And no doubt the people John was writing to here had similar worries. So he gives them four tests to apply to their lives to reassure them, but also to warn them about certain people who wished to lead them astray.

The Test of Christian obedience (2:3-6)

His first test is a simple one: do we obey his commandments? He says “whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection.” Now clearly from what he’s just written he doesn’t actually expect us to have reached the level of perfection. He’s just written “8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) He seems to be saying two opposite things. It’s a bit like those proverbs that give you instructions that appear to be opposites. e.g. “4Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself. 5Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:4-5) So what’s he thinking of here? I think what he’s saying is that the intention of our hearts is what matters. It’s those times when we voluntarily turn to follow Christ, to obey God’s commandments, that assure us of our place in God’s kingdom. So he talks about those who abide in God walking in his ways. That is, those who’ve placed their lives in God’s hands, who then choose to follow him.

You know, there are plenty of people who are only ever aware of their failings as Christians; who maybe feel they’re such a failure that they’ll never make it as a Christian. That’s what Satan will tell you.” “You might as well give up now.” “What a hypocrite!” he’ll say. “How can you call yourself a Christian?” But no, we mustn’t give up when we fail. John has just reminded us that if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Sin is the universal Christian failing. As Paul tells us in Romans 7 we want to do what’s right, but in our weakness we end up doing wrong. So what will we focus on? Well, John says, focus on that desire of the heart to do what God wants. This is the sign that God has sent his Spirit to dwell within us. It’s what God promised through Jeremiah when he said (Jer 31:33) “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” So the first sign of whether God has a place in our lives is this: it’s whether we have that inner desire, given by the Holy Spirit, to obey God’s words just as Jesus did. If we don’t, we can’t claim to know God, but if we do, if we’re seeking to walk as Jesus did, that is, in obedience to the Father, then we’ll know that God’s love is being made complete in us.

The Test of Christian Affections  (2:7-14)

The second test of our authenticity is the test of our affections. That is, how do we relate to our brothers and sisters? Do we love them or hate them. This is a primary sign, he says, of whether we’re walking in the light or the darkness. You see, there’s this paradigm shift that takes place with the coming of Jesus. That’s what he says in vs 7&8. In one sense this isn’t a new commandment. The command to love our neighbour has always been there. Right from the very beginning God’s law has been directed towards people showing love to others. That’s why Jesus could quote Lev 19:18 when asked about the greatest commandment. The OT law was an expression of the character and will of its giver, of the God of love. Paul, in Gal 5:14 says the entire law is summed up in this single command, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Yet at the same time this is something new. Jesus said “A new commandment I give you.” Here John says (v. 8)  “Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” This is the sign of the new age. Jesus has driven a wedge into history. What before was the impossible dream has now become possible.

You know, people have always dreamed of living in a Utopia where people loved one another. Some have even tried to create such a society. But the darkness of sin in various forms has always prevented them from achieving their aims (Check out Utopian Communities online if you're interested). But now, in the Church, through Christ, it’s becoming possible. Do you see what he says? This is an amazing statement really: “I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you.” Of course it was true in Jesus, but it’s also true in us! Why?  Because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. The true light of the Kingdom of God has begun to shine into the world through us, God’s people, through the Church, as we show the love of Christ to each other. Isn’t that exciting? Have you ever thought of yourself as exhibiting the true light of Christ in the love you show to your Christian brothers and sisters? What a great incentive to love one another! And what a great gospel message that is! Churches have always been a collection of a broad variety of people, irrespective of class, education, ethnicity. Why? Because we accept and love each other without condition.

But notice how the converse applies. If you fail to love another believer you’re walking in darkness. You’ve lost your way. He says you’re blind.

Notice how he encourages the whole Christian community to think about this in vs 12-14. It doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old, in a position of authority or not, experienced or still growing. Each of us has something to thank God for. Each of us has experienced the love of God in different ways: All of us have had our sins forgiven. Those who are older have the advantage of years of getting to know God the Father. Those who are young have the strength of youth, the experience of overcoming the power of Satan fresh in their minds and the word of God alive in them. Perhaps what he means there is that there’s an enthusiasm about learning from God’s word that’s especially present in those who are new to the faith. And of course it’s the power of God’s word that enables us to be strong.

The Test of Christian values  2:15-17

The third test of our authenticity and perhaps, for us today, the hardest, is the test of our Christian values. He says: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world (v15)”. Now he isn’t talking here about some form of asceticism. He isn’t talking about denying the flesh in order to be more godly. That in fact was one of the false teachings of his time. Nor does he mean avoiding the world, escaping from it by some form of monasticism or by only ever associating with other Christians so you avoid any chance of being polluted by the world. No he isn’t talking about that. We need to be in the world so we can share the gospel. So what does he mean? What should we avoid? Well, he tells us, doesn’t he? “The desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches” That’s what he’s talking about. There’s a very 21st century feel about that isn’t there? He’s talking about the kind of worldliness that indulges the body: gluttony, greed, addictions of one sort or another, lust, covetousness. He’s talking about the way we love to indulge our aesthetic side. The way some people will give anything to possess a great painting or even a rare stamp. The way some people are obsessed with how their house looks, or their garden, or their car. With the way some people will spend hours in the gym or the beauty parlour sculpting their body to perfection. He’s talking about the kind of worldliness that boasts about its wealth, that prides itself in the possession of status symbols. (Have you ordered the iPhone 11 Pro yet?)

In other words the sort of worldliness he’s talking about is the sort that’s focussed on satisfying ‘me’. That puts ‘me’ at the centre of the universe rather than God. But the futility of this way of life is this: It seeks to accumulate things from this world, but in the end the things of this world, even the desires we have in this world, will pass away, and all that’ll be left will be God and those who are his, i.e. those who seek to do his will. (v17).

The Test of Christian faithfulness (2:18-23)

Finally, the fourth test of our authenticity is the test of Christian faithfulness. He says, “You have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour.” It isn’t easy to be a Christian in the last days. There are people all around trying to convince us that they have a new truth, whether it’s the Mormons, or the JWs knocking on our doors, or those so-called Progressive Christians with a liberal theology who’ll question whether Jesus really rose from the dead, or whether he really did the miracles that the gospels report: people who’ve accepted the fake news that our understanding of science rules out the belief in miracles or the supernatural and certainly of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. There are all sorts of beliefs being bandied around as alternatives to Christianity. And you’ll find that people will believe them. G.K. Chesterton once wrote, ‘When people abandon the truth, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.’ The great danger for the Christian Church today isn’t scepticism or atheism, it’s gullibility. It’s the willingness to believe the claims of new age sects, of pseudo sciences, or the modern superstitious beliefs that people cling to rather than accepting the gospel. And notice that the ones he describes as antichrists have gone out from the very membership of the Church. Sadly these former believers now deny that Jesus is the Christ, in effect denying both the Father and the Son. I find it very sad when I meet or hear Christian leaders in particular, who deny the divinity of Christ; who are happy to believe in his humanity, but can’t accept his deity.

But don’t let them deceive you, he says. You’ve been anointed by the Holy one. That is, you’ve received the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. So stick with the truth which you heard from the beginning, which he’s placed in your heart. That is, the truth about Jesus Christ, truly human and truly divine. If that truth remains in you, you will remain in the Son and in the Father.

So here are 4 tests of the authenticity of your faith. Are you obeying God? Is your heart prompting you to obey him and to turn to him for forgiveness when you fail? Are you showing love to your Christian brother and sister? Even to those you find unlovable? Is that love of God shining out in your life as you interact with non-Christians you come into contact with? Are your values those of the Kingdom of God or those of the world? Are you sticking with the truth of the gospel? Is your heart set on God and the things he promises or are you being swayed by the imaginings of human minds? Those are questions we could well ask ourselves every day. Why? So we will continue in fellowship with one another and with the Father, and so we’ll have confidence that we do indeed have eternal life.

And let’s not miss the final encouragement of the passage:

“But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him.”

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