Know What you Believe - by Rachael Lie audio (3MB)
Introduction: I came to Australia in 2001 and have been here for nearly 10 years. One thing I learnt from my Australian friends: they said: there are 3 questions that you should avoid asking: 1. How much do you earn in a year? 2. What political party do you support and 3. What religion do you believe in? Those three questions are sensitive questions to most Australians, especially the one about religion. Before I studied Theology, I was a graduate Bachelor of Commerce. When my neighbour asked me what I was doing and I would say "I'm an accountant." Then they'd respond by saying: “yeah, that's a good, bright and shiny occupation!” But now I've graduated as a theological student, and when my badminton teammates asked me what I was doing and I said "I'm a young adults' minister serving in the church" Their response was a stark contrast to my neighbour's response before; they simply nodded their head with a blank facial expression and quickly moved on to another topic.
It would be interesting to see what Australians actually believe today. According to the International Religion Monitor survey of Australians, although 64% see themselves as Christians only 25% see themselves as deeply religious. 44% consider themselves religious but that religion does not play a central role in their lives. 48% do not partake in personal prayer; 52% never or very seldom visit a religious place of worship; 31% said that they did not believe in God or a divine power or in life after death. In an international comparison this ranks Australians at the bottom end of the scale (ranked 17 out of 21 nations polled). The survey finds that the only countries to show less interest in religion than Australia were Russia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. So Australia is not 'God's own country', after all, is it?
We live in a world where there are many interpretations of Christianity and many different attitudes toward Christ. Those who have beliefs other than Christianity will question: what authority do we have to say that Christianity is the only way to salvation? How about other religions, aren't they all teaching us to be good? Aren't they all the same and therefore leading us on the same path to God, like the popular saying: “All roads lead to Rome”? Christianity is accused as a domineering group who claim it has an absolute truth and there is no other way to gain salvation except through Christ. This claim is seen to repress others and is therefore unacceptable. Do you know that the majority of men and women under the age of 25 think that all beliefs are equally valid? Everyone's opinion is just as valid as everyone else's. Is that true?
On the other hand, those who do not believe there is a God, question the rationality and reality of Christianity. To them, Christianity is seen as superstitious, the bible is presented as a book of miracle and myths rather than historically proven facts, and therefore Jesus and His deeds are not historical truth but stories made up by apostles or disciples. Is that true? We are persuaded by the world to discard the bible and ignore bible knowledge about God. The world encourages us to shape and to choose our own god, and even worse to make us believe that we indeed are gods ourselves. They poison us by saying that God is unknown, that we are too small to understand who God really is, and since we don't know, there is no point in guessing, is there? After all, who know who is right?
So, as a Christian, do you know what you believe?
In fact, to be a Christian in the time of Early Church period was as challenging as it is to be a Christian in today's society. Just look at John's time at his church. There were a group of teachers and leaders who had been teaching some odd ideas about Christ. Some of them believed all matter was evil - God would not and did not have anything to do with the material universe and Christ as God could not have come in the flesh and therefore to say Christ died on the cross for us is impossible. John describes these people as 'denying the Son' because they deny that Christ became flesh (4:2-3) "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world." These people have gone astray from the apostolic teaching. Without it as a foundation, they had created their own theology about God and shaped God into their own image. Therefore, they'd created many different ideas about Jesus according to their own knowledge instead of the revelation of the Word, the Word of Life which became flesh and manifested through Christ, the Son of God.
Truth about Jesus Christ:
1. He is God and He is real (v.1-2) John does not allow for false teachings about Christ in the church. The reality of the Word became flesh and the historical reality of Christ needed to be defended. He is God and He is real, the truth about Jesus Christ needed to be proclaimed. And John has the authority to defend his teaching. He is the one who has had first-hand experience of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is real. "We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us." John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, the author of the Gospel of John and Revelation, is testifying to the historical reality of the Son of God become a man. Jesus Christ is not only a historical person, his death and resurrection are real and they happened 2000 years ago. They are not imaginary, the Christian message is more than someone's subjective experience, nor is it determined by someone's emotions, it is grounded in things that happened in the history.
2. He is Word of Life (v.1-2)
John is clearly referring to the Word of Life as Jesus who describes himself as 'the life' in the Gospel of John 14:6. John further describes this life as eternal and says that by truly believing in the name of Christ, we all can possess this life (1 Jn 5:11-13): "And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." It means there is no other way to possess this life, not by any human efforts, not by good deed or any mystical way. This eternal life is obtained through Jesus Christ solely. Right at the start of the letter, John testifies that Jesus is God and also the eternal lifeans he adds that whoever does not have Christ does not have life. This message that he and the other disciples have been proclaiming is real because it is based on eyewitness testimonies. John and the other disciples were there when it happened. They were so convinced that they were willing to die for what they believed in. John knows what he believe is true. Do you?
3. In Him we can have fellowship and experience joy (v.3-4) Here is the reason for John to declare that Christ is God, Christ is the Word of Life, the eternal life, so that we all may have fellowship with them and this fellowship is not only just with one another but is also with the Father and with the Son. "We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete." The word 'Fellowship' is familiar to everyone here. Maybe to some of you, this word might be the very first word that you hear before you came to St. Thomas'. What does the word 'Fellowship' means? It literally means “having in common”. Two or more persons can be said to have fellowship with one another when they have something in common. James, John and Simon shared in their common pursuit of fishing (Luke5:10). Paul and Titus shared in a common faith (Titus 1:4), believers share in the grace of God (Phil. 1:7), in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:9), and in spiritual gifts generally (Rom 15:27). However, John invited his readers to join him in the fellowship, and this fellowship is rooted in the Father and Christ, so that those are in fellowship will experience a complete joy.
Gary Burge in his commentary on 1 John says of Christian fellowship, “It is not some passing association of people who share common sympathies for a cause. Nor is it an academy where an intellectual consensus about God is discovered. It cannot be so superficial. Christian community is partnership in experience of Jesus Christ; it is the common living of people who have a shared experience of Jesus Christ. They talk about this experience, they urge each other to grow more deeply in it, and they discover that through it, they begin to build a life together unlike any shared life in the world.”
How often do we Christians talk about how Christ impacts our life when we meet together, how often do we Christians encourage other to grow more deeply in the relationship with Christ so that we can share the joy of His working amongst us? Recently, I was having few Gospel lessons with some of the Rainbow Fellowship members. After each class, the members would share their experiences during the week and allow us to pray for each other and intercede for other members who were not with us. I am always moved and have great joy seeing how our brothers and sisters are standing firm in their faith and relying on God when facing challenges in their lives.
Before I move to a conclusion and application, let me share with you what Bilbo said in the first movie of the Lord of The Rings, 'The Fellowship of the Ring': “It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door, you step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Conclusion and Applications: There are many challenges for us being a Christian in the community. Just like Bilbo said to Frodo, it's dangerous out there. There are many interpretations and claims about Christianity. If you don't know what you believe, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to by false teachings. This is why John's letter is a warning that Christians need to know what they believe. False teaching is out there, not far at all from us. So don't trust that once you have accepted Christ sincerely you will be safe forever. Satan's attacks are real and he always waits for an opportunity to devour God's people. Never say this thing will not happen to us, it will happen if you don't guard what you believe constantly, you need to guard the truth of the Gospel and be confident at all times that Christ and His message is historically and eternally true. Don't be ignorant; don't trust that you know everything about God without referring to the Bible. Instead, let us seek opportunities to understand the Bible.
Last but not least, rejoice that you can have fellowship with the Father and the Son and with other Christians. Speak of Christ and share His amazing works in you, let yourself be an encouragement and blessings to other through our Christian fellowship. KNOW WHAT YOU BELIEVE, CHURCH.