Many people claim to love God even though their lives demonstrate a love for the world. However, as 1 John 2:3–17 reminds us, these two loves cannot coexist. In this sermon, David Platt encourages us to examine our lives to see whether we genuinely belong to God. None of us will reach sinless perfection in this life, but a love for God will be evident in our desires and in our obedience.
If you have a Bible—and I hope you do—let me invite you to open with me to 1 John 2. It is good to come together around God’s Word as we are walking through the book of 1 John and working together to memorize the first chapter, one verse each week.
I’ve got to tell you how encouraged I was yesterday. I mentioned last week that I would be throwing out the first pitch at the Nationals game for Faith Day—my one opportunity to be like the great Bob Gibson. And by God grace, due to incredible coaching from my ten-year-old son, I got the ball across the plate. It was so funny. He said to me afterwards, “Dad, if you’d have bounced that there, I still would have been proud of you. But when you threw it across the plate, I was like, yes!” It was like a dad talking to his son in reverse.
More importantly, when I was walking off the field, there was a member of McLean up in the stands. She got my attention and started yelling, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes…” She just started loudly quoting 1 John 1—it was awesome! So let’s say it together now, then add in verse two:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.
That’s complicated and wordy, isn’t it? I can see some of you doing motions. That’s what we do in our house—we use all kinds of motions to help us memorize. Use every device you can to get this. Let’s try it one more time:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.
Well done! Some of you are thinking, “That’s two verses—and we’re going to ten. I don’t know if I can do this.” Let me encourage you—don’t give up. Keep pressing in. Psalm 1, “Blessed is the
man…[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season… In all that he does, he prospers.” If you want real prosperity in this world, hide God’s Word in your heart.
This leads us to 1 John 2, but before we dive into this text, I want to share something with you. My heart is particularly heavy today. As one of your pastors, I pray continually for your good and I want to work continually for your good. That means as I stand before you, I long to encourage and comfort you. This is not an easy world we live in and I know that every week when we come here, there are people who are hurting in all kinds of different situations. I want to encourage and comfort you.
At the same time, I know that God’s Word sometimes speaks to us in ways that are hard to hear. This is actually evidence of His love for us, but it doesn’t necessarily make it easy to hear. So I believe the best way I can love you is by saying whatever the Bible is saying, even when it’s hard to hear or say. I was reading a quote from the great African-American preacher Lamuel Haynes. He said:
The pastor will not be ambitious of saying fine things to win applause, but of saying useful things to win souls. He will not entertain his audience with empty speculations or vain philosophy, but with things that concern their everlasting welfare. Jesus Christ and Him crucified will be the great topic and darling theme of his preaching. If he means to save souls, like a skillful physician, he will endeavor to lead his patients into a view of their maladies and then point them to a bleeding Savior as the only way of recovery. The faithful watchman will give the alarm at the approach of the enemy, will blow the trumpet in the ears of the sleeping sinner, and will endeavor to wake him.
I feel like today in particular I’m trying to blow a trumpet and sound an alarm. I want to wake us with God’s Word in a way, I pray, that shows His love. So let me just cut to the chase. I am concerned that the greatest challenge facing you and me in our faith right now is not persecution from the world. That’s the greatest challenge facing many of our brothers and sisters around the world. But not us here.
I am concerned that the greatest challenge facing you and me in our faith right now is not persecution from the world but seduction by the world—worldliness. A century ago, Charles Spurgeon said, “I believe one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church… Put your finger on any prosperous phase in the church’s history and you will find a little marginal note that says, ‘In this age, people could readily see where the church began and where the world ended.’”
I believe we’re living in a day when you can’t tell where the church begins and the world ends. This is not just intuition. Look at the statistics. Study after study show that the lifestyles of professing Christians look just like the world around us. We are just as materialistic, just as sexually immoral, just as self-focused. Racially, we’re even more divided than the world. We’re just as materialistic. Our
spending patterns are strikingly similar to the world around us. Our giving patterns are strikingly similar to the world around us. Six percent of professing Christians tithe. Six percent!
That’s not just outside—this is us, in this church gathering. We know from our giving patterns here that the overwhelming majority of people in this gathering don’t tithe. We spend our money on all the same things the world spends money on. We’re just as self-focused, just as sexually immoral. The percentage of professing Christian men who view pornography is virtually the same as non-Christian men. Men all across this gathering have viewed pornography over the last week, the last month.
Professing Christians are practically as likely to have sex outside of marriage. Whether we’re single or married—it doesn’t matter—sexual activity with someone who’s not your spouse is almost as common among professing Christians as it is among non-Christians in the world. For many students and singles, this is just normal. Then in marriages, professing Christians are just as likely to divorce as non Christians. Some studies have even shown divorce is more common among professing Christians than non-Christians. Other studies show that marital abuse is just as common.
In parenting, the priorities of professing Christian parents for their kids look virtually identical to the priorities of non-Christian parents. We cart our kids all over town in the exact same way that non Christian parents do, teaching our kids to be good at the things the world says are most important, like sports and entertainment. We took a survey in our student ministry, asking, “What if anything hinders your family’s spiritual life?” Over 80% said busyness and heavy schedules were their top hindrances.
It’s not necessarily what our kids are getting that’s bad—it’s what our kids are not getting. They spend hours upon hours in practices for this or that, playing video games, in front of a screen—and minutes, if any time at all, in the Word or in prayer with Mom or Dad. The effects are evident. All the research we hear says that many of our kids who grow up in church walk away from their faith after leaving home. I think about my four kids and just can’t be content with that.
Something needs to change. We are living just like the world. We look just like the world. In this gathering, we love this world. In our text today, 1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” Period. That is God’s Word. God is speaking right now, in this room, saying, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” Underline, highlight, star that sentence.
As we’ll see, there are a lot of things that verse does not mean. It does not mean don’t love the people of the world. We know God loves the people of the world so much that He sent His Son to die for them (John 3:16). Last week, we saw in 1 John 2:2 that Jesus was the sacrifice, the propitiation, for the sins of the world. It also does not mean we can’t enjoy anything in the world. We know from 1 Timothy 6 that God has given all kinds of good things in the world for us to enjoy: family, a good meal with friends, a baseball game. So we love people in the world and we enjoy the good gifts God gives us in the world.
But what John is saying—what the Bible is commanding here—is that we must not love the ways and practices and patterns of the world that are set up in so many ways against the Word of God. This is a world where it’s normal to go on day after day gratifying self, indulging self, entertaining self, exalting self without regard for the character or the commands of God. John is saying the church should look different—very different. The Bible is saying our schedules should look different, our spending should look different, our marriages should look different. Our parenting, our purity, our possessions, our lives should look different—not for the sake of being different, but because we love God more than we love this world.
Right after this, John says in 2:15, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” This is where I want you to see that this is not just a matter of externals, “Okay, what do I have to change?” No, this is a matter of the heart. What or who do we desire most? In fact, look at the warning in verse 17: “The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
Did you hear that? That is an eternal warning. Hear God’s voice here. “If you love this world, you will perish with this world.” He’s saying, “Don’t love the world—it will destroy you. Don’t teach the next generation to love this world—it will destroy them. Instead, love God and do His will, and you will live forever.” It’s like an invitation. Remember, that’s why John is writing this book, so that we might know we have eternal life. As we’ll see next week in the verses after this, some people who are professing to be Christians are not actually Christians.
Here’s why my heart is particularly heavy when I hear and see statistics like those I’ve just mentioned about the number of professing Christians whose lives look just like the world. I can’t avoid coming to a conclusion that many professing Christians are not Christians. As we’ll see, this is what 1 John is saying and we need to hear it, because this can certainly include professing Christians in this gathering who are not Christians.
I want to be careful and wise in the way I say that, because for true followers of Christ in this gathering, the last thing I want to do is cause you to doubt your faith. But for those who are deceived into thinking you are a Christian when you’re not—the last thing I want to do is to comfort you in your present state before God. I want to warn you with everything in me. So I’ve prayed and pleaded with God, saying, “As we walk through this Word, may Your Spirit take this Word and, where comfort and encouragement are needed, bring it. Where warning is needed, bring it.”
John is doing both of these things in this book. He’s encouraging followers of Christ and he’s warning those who say they’re Christians but who are deceived. Over and over again, we’ve already seen where he says, “If you say you’re a Christian and believe this, you’re deceived. If you say you’re a Christian and live like this, you’re a liar.” Talk about politically incorrect—to say to some, maybe many, people who say they’re Christians, “You’re a liar.” But if that’s true, don’t you want to know it? Wouldn’t every one of us want to know if we’re deceived in some way—especially if we’re deceived about our eternity? I want to know that. I want to know the truth about my life for eternity. I’m guessing you do too.
So how do you know you have eternal life? This is the question 1 John is continually answering. I don’t believe this is important just for professing Christians. I know that many of you are visiting with us today. Maybe you’ve come at the invitation of a friend. Maybe you’re exploring Christianity. We want you to know we’re so glad you’re here. You are welcome here and I believe what we’re talking about here is vitally important for you as well. Because if you’re going to really evaluate Christianity, then it’s really important for you to know what Christianity actually is.
I saw a recent news article with the headlines, “Exposing America’s Biggest Hypocrites: Evangelical Christians.” This was in the first line in the article: “Christianity in America—or should I say, the single greatest cause of atheism today…” Now, obviously we could argue about whether that’s true, but we’d all have to agree that many people see a disconnect between what Christians say and how Christians live, then they walk away saying, “I don’t want anything to do with that.” Maybe some of you who are visiting have experienced that.
Most importantly, I want you to know you have eternal life. So here’s what I want to do in the next few minutes. I want us to think together about false foundations for assurance of eternal life and true foundations for eternal life. What I mean by that is the Bible is saying here in 1 John, over and over again, “This is how you know you have eternal life.” It’s not like you have to wonder. This is how you know. We’re going to see that phrase over and over again today. These are the foundations for assurance that you have eternal life.
False foundations for assurance of eternal life
What’s interesting, though, is the foundations the Bible gives are very different from the foundations I see and hear many people standing on when they say, “Yeah, I know I’m a Christian.” I see and hear so many false foundations for assurance that are not mentioned in the Bible. Let’s just list some of them. How do you know you’re a Christian? How do you know you have eternal life? Here are at least eight false foundations I hear all the time.
- Religious heritage. People say, “I was born a Christian. I grew up in a Christian home.” The Bible never teaches that where you were born or where you grew up is any guarantee of eternal life.
- Church involvement. I talk to a ton of people who say, “Yeah, I go to church every once in a while,” or every week, for that matter. While gathering with a church is essential for following Christ, the Bible never says that going to church, by itself, is any basis for assurance in eternity. You can go to church every single Sunday of your life and not have eternal life.
- Moral lifestyle. People say, “I’m a good person. I’m kind, honest, generous—a lot more than a lot of people in the world.” The Bible teaches very clearly that a moral lifestyle does not assure anyone of eternal life. Just ask the Pharisees, who were avid law-keepers. Look at their conversations with Jesus all throughout the Bible.
- Intellectual knowledge. People say, “I believe Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, so I know I’m a Christian. I believe that.” Actually, that merely puts you on the same plane as the devil himself. He believes Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. He does not have eternal life. That’s no assurance for eternal life.
- Active ministry and serving. “Look at all I do in the church, for the church, for others, in this way or that way.” As soon as you say that, please hear Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:22-23: “On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Ladies and gentlemen, it’s possible to do all kinds of things in the church—even to be called a pastor—and not know Christ.
- A guilty conscience. People say, “Well, I feel bad when I sin, so I must be a Christian.” The reality is all kinds of people feel bad when they do wrong. We have a whole system of pop psychology filled with man-made ways to cover over our guilt. We even create a supposedly Christian versions of it but it’s nothing more than self-help wrapped in spiritual terms.
- Positive thinking. “Well, I think I’m a Christian.” If that was a foundation for assurance, then no one could ever be deceived. That’s the point of deception. Think about millions of people in cults right now who claim they’re Christians when the Bible clearly teaches they are not. We want to know what God thinks, not what we think.
- A past decision. I hear people say, “I know I’m a Christian because I remember when I signed that card…when I prayed that prayer…said those words…went forward. I remember right where I was when I did that.” I want to be very careful here, because many true followers of Christ can remember the exact moment when they put their faith in Christ and their heart and life was changed forever. But at the same time, there are many people who signed a card, prayed a prayer, said some words, walked an aisle, joined a church, but today, and for years, have not been walking with God and have no desire to walk with God. They do not have eternal life. Please hear this. The Bible does not say—you will not find one verse in 1 John that says—“As long as you said some words or signed a card or joined a church one time, you can know you have eternal life.”
Now, again, that doesn’t mean that there was not a point in the past when you may have truly started a relationship with God through faith in Jesus. But when John writes this letter to help people know they have eternal life, he doesn’t say, “Look to the past.” He says, “Look to the present.” This is key. Please pay attention here. John is not addressing how you become a Christian in this book as much as he is addressing how you know you’re a Christian. Those are two very different things.
So how do you become a Christian? What does the Bible teach about that? Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Mark 1:15 states, “Repent and believe in the gospel.” So if you are exploring Christianity, this is what the Bible teaches about what it means to become a Christian. You must realize that God is good and holy, and that each one of us have sinned again Him. We’ve turned from His ways to our ways. This looks different in each of our lives, but we are all separated from God, deserving the good and just judgment of God.
But we also need to realize God loves us so much that He has sent Jesus to us, to live the life we could not live—a life of perfect obedience to God. Then, although He had no sin for which to pay a price, He chose to die for our sin. He paid the price for our sin on a cross. And then on the third day He rose from the dead in victory over sin and death.
Therefore anyone, anywhere, who repents and turns from sin, who says, “God, I know I’m a sinner and I’m trusting in Jesus as the Savior of my soul and the Lord of my life”—when you repent and believe in Jesus, then you are forgiven of your sin, reconciled and restored to a right relationship with God forever. This is how you become a Christian. We invite you to become a Christian.
True foundations for assurance of eternal life
“At what point, then, does the Bible teach how I can know I’ve become a Christian?” Here’s how you can know it’s a reality, that Jesus is actually your Savior and the Lord of your life. Here are the true foundations for assurance. I want to show you four of them here in 1 John 1 and 2. But even in this, I want to be careful not to imply in any way that these are boxes you can check off in order to become a Christian. Please hear this. This is why I’m emphasizing the difference.
In order to become a Christian, you must repent and believe, as we just said. Then these are the questions the Bible gives us to ask so we can examine our hearts and know that we’re not deceived, how we can know that repentance and belief are true realities in our lives. We need to ask four questions. So hear God putting these before you today through His Word, into your heart, right where you’re sitting.
- Are you trusting in Jesus alone as the Son of God and Savior from your sin? This is the essence of what John writes in 1 John 5:13. It’s the theme verse in this book. “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.” So knowing you have eternal life is dependent on believing in the name of the Son of God.
We saw this last week from 1 John 1:6-7: “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” In other words, we’re deceived. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Then go down to verse nine: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” First John 2:2 tell us, “He is the propitiation (the sacrifice) for our sins.”
So ask the question: are you trusting in Jesus alone, right now, as the Son of God—God in the flesh—Who came to offer His life as a sacrifice for your sin? If not, then you don’t have a lot of reason for assurance that you have eternal life. You’re not trusting in the only One Who’s able to give eternal life.
Put this together with some of those false foundations for assurance. There are many Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses right now who are great, moral, loving, kind and good people. They’re devoted to their faith; they believe and say they are Christians. Yet they deny explicitly that Jesus is uniquely God in the flesh. And as a result, they are deceived.
Similarly, there are people today who have made past decisions. They walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, said some words in the past—but if you were to ask them today, “Are you trusting in Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior from your sin?” they would say, “Absolutely not. No way.” If they aren’t trusting in Jesus as the Savior from their sin, they don’t have much reason for assurance of eternal life, because He’s the only One Who is able to give eternal life.
That causes all kinds of questions. What happened back there and since then? We’ll dive into that some more next week. The whole point is not to say that this is tossing up in the air the reality that those who are saved are always saved. But just hear this. If we are rejecting Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior from sin, then we have no basis for assurance that we have eternal life.
One more example. There are church members who believe in Jesus, yet at the same time they believe their church attendance and all they do for Jesus will earn their way to heaven. As long as they believe that, they will have little assurance of their salvation. I think about Catholic friends. Most of our conversations revolve around this. The Catholic church officially teaches that we are saved from our sin and justified before God, not by faith alone, but by faith plus works. This is why, whenever I have conversations with my Catholic friends, I ask, “Do you know you have eternal life?” They will respond, “I hope so. I believe in Jesus and hope my good works will get me there.”
But good works do not save us from our sin. Jesus alone can save us from our sin. Ephesians 2:8 says, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
not a result of works.” Assurance comes from trusting in Jesus alone as Savior from our sins. Not Jesus plus anything—just Jesus, period. So are you trusting in Jesus alone as the Son of God and the Savior from your sin? It’s a critical question.
Now, does that mean that our works, what we do in our lives, don’t matter at all? No, that’s why Ephesians 2:10, right after saying we’re saved by grace, says, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” And this leads right into the second question we ask when looking for assurance of eternal life.
- Are you obeying Jesus alone as the Lord of your life? This is where we finished in 1 John 2 last week. This is God’s Word. Just hear it in verses three through six: “By this we know that we have come to know him.” How do we know if we’ve come to know Him?
If we keep his commandments. Whoever says I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
These verses could not be any more clear or more critical. Now again, realize that this is not saying that we need to obey God in order to be saved from our sin. That would contradict everything we see throughout the Bible. We are saved from our sin and justified before God by trusting in Jesus alone as the Son of God and our Savior. And then this is how we know that trust is real: we do what Jesus says. If we trust Him, we follow Him. We keep His commandments and obey His Word.
We walk in His way. Why? So that we can be saved? No. We keep His commandments because we have been saved. This is how we know we’ve been justified by Jesus: we live like Jesus. We trust Him with our lives, so we obey Him as the Lord of our lives. Obeying Jesus is not a condition for knowing Jesus. Obeying Jesus is a sign that we do know Jesus. We trust Him, so we obey Him. This makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s just common sense.
What is a Christian? A Christian is a follower of Christ. All we’re asking is what the Bible is asking: are you following Christ? And if the answer to that question is no, then it doesn’t really make sense to call yourself a Christian. It is a sad commentary on Christianity in our day when so many people profess to be Christians, yet there’s so little fruit of actually following Christ. There may be church attendance, moral decency—but again, you can have those things and not be a Christian. The question is: are you obeying Jesus alone as the Lord of your life?
Now, I want to be careful here. Much like I mentioned last week, the picture here is definitely not holy perfection. It’s not that a true Christian never sins. “If you do sin, then you should doubt your salvation.” No. The whole point at the end of 1 John 1 and the beginning of 1 John 2 is that if or when you sin, you confess your sin. For the true follower of Christ, when he or she sins—which I do, you do,
we struggle with sin—there is confession. There is repentance. There is sorrow over sin. There’s a turning from sin and a desire for change, a working by God’s grace to obey Jesus as Lord of our lives. Repentance is a great word in the original language in the New Testament here.
When it’s talking about obedience, it means to desire obedience. It’s not, “Okay, I have to do this.” No, it’s, “I desire it. I want to obey Jesus, because I trust Him, His Word and His ways.” So when I talk to the couple who’s living together outside of marriage and they say, “We’re Christians,” I open up the Bible and I say in love, “This is going directly against God’s Word. You’re disobeying Jesus.” If when they see that, they say, “Ah, we’re so sorry. We want to obey Jesus. We trust that His ways are better than our ways, so we’re going to confess that before God, and one of us is moving out,” then I say, “It sure looks like they’re followers of Christ.”
But if on the other hand they say, “Yeah, we’re still going to live together anyway,” then it’s at least doubtful that they are followers of Christ, but that they are deceived. In this passage, John as a pastor doesn’t say to that couple, “Well, as long as you said some words at a moment in the past, you’re okay.”
I realize that even though I’m using language that’s strong, it’s not as strong as what John was saying. The Bible clearly says that in this situation, “If you say you know Him, but you don’t keep His commandments—if you don’t even desire to keep them or you’re not working to keep them—you’re a liar. The truth is not in you.” So I ask you, are you obeying Jesus alone as the Lord of your life. Obviously not perfectly. You may have all kinds of struggles. But the closer you grow to God, the more you see your sin before Him. That struggle gets even greater in some ways. Is the posture of your heart and life saying, “Jesus, You are my Lord. I want to follow You. I trust Your Word is better than my ways, so I want to do whatever You want me to do. I know I still sin, but I sure want to sin less and less and less. So please help me obey You”? This is how you know you have eternal life: you’re obeying Jesus as the Lord of your life.
- Are you showing the love of God to others? Let’s pick up in 1 John 2:7. God’s Word says:
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. 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. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in 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.
So to briefly explain what the Bible just said, the command to love others is obviously not new. It’s been around from the beginning. But that command to love took on a whole new meaning when Jesus came. In love, the Light of the world left His throne in heaven to come to our darkness. In love, He laid down His life for us. And now, for all who have trusted in Him as Savior and Lord, He lives in us, which means we now love like He loves.
We lay down our lives in love for people around us. We selflessly serve and compassionately care for people around us. And not just people like us, but people unlike us—even our enemies. We provide for those in need among us, particularly in the church. And anyone who says he or she is a follower of Jesus, but that kind of love is not evident in their lives, the Bible is saying right here they’re not in the light. They’re still in the darkness.
John will say this in other ways in chapters to come. In 1 John 3:14 he says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life.” How do we know that, John? How do we know we’ve passed out of death into life? “Because we love the brothers.” That’s how we know we have eternal life, because we have a whole new love for people around us.
Three verses later he writes, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” Again, that’s not, “Love others so you can earn your way to eternal life.” But when Jesus, Who is eternal life and love, is living in you then you will increasingly grow in love like His love for those around you—from home to work to community to the world, and particularly played out in the church.
I was talking with a student last week who is not a follower of Christ and, frankly, not really wanting to be. He said to me, “My parents say they’re Christians and other people think they’re strong Christians, but I watch the way they treat each other at home. My dad clearly doesn’t love my mom in the way he treats her. My mom clearly doesn’t love my dad in the way she talks about him. And I just don’t get it. Is this what Christianity is about?”
The answer is no, it’s not. For those who are in Christ—again, not holy perfection, but holy direction—there is a desire to love. There is working to love as Christ loves that’s evident in the follower of Christ’s life, marriage, relationships in the church and relationships in the world. The Bible says the same thing in the book of James. When professing Christians in the church were ignoring the poor among them, remember what James said in James 2?
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
In other words, people who claim to be Christians and followers of Christ, yet ignore the poor right around them and even in the church, they are deceived. We need to ask if they’re really Christians.
And it’s not that they need to start loving in order to become Christians. It’s that they need to repent and believe in Jesus, to trust Jesus. They’ll either grow in holiness as a follower of Christ, or they need a whole new heart altogether. This leads right into the last question.
- Are you experiencing the love of God for you? Our foundation for assurance of eternal life is not just that we’re showing the love of God to others, but that we’re experiencing His love ourselves. I want you to follow me closely here, because when I was studying this week, this word just started light bulbs going on everywhere. I was pretty fired up—you’ve got to see this.
Starting in verse 12, John begins to encourage the true Christians who are trusting in Christ, obeying Christ and loving other, by saying:
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
Now, keep in mind that when John writes “little children,” he’s referring to all the followers of Christ in the church in and around Ephesus—and by extension to us. He’s like a father in the faith and we are children of God. He writes to fathers and young men, not to be exclusively focused on males in the church, but as a picture of those who are older or younger physically or in the faith. It’s not entirely clear which, but his point is the same. It’s repetitive. He’s saying the same things multiple times.
Notice how his encouragement to them is based on God’s love for them. Remember, he’s writing this letter for their assurance. He wants to comfort and encourage them. He’s saying, “You have been forgiven of all your sins by God; you know God.” The word John uses for “know” means to know by experience. It’s not just to know about God in your mind, but to know God in your heart and in your life. As we’ve already seen in 1 John, you have fellowship with God. And as a result of fellowship with God, you have His Word in your heart, you have His victory in your life. In your struggles with sin and temptation, amidst trial and suffering, you’ve overcome the evil one.
See the picture here of the true Christian—the man or woman or student who has been forgiven by the love of God and is now experiencing the love of God in intimate knowledge of God and fellowship with God on a daily basis in the world. This is eternal life: experiencing the love of God. It’s knowing it and walking in it. This is the true Christian life: experiencing the love of God. The true Christian life is not saying a few words and moving on and everything looks the same. You have a relationship with God. You have knowledge of God. You have fellowship with God. You’re experiencing His love. Make the connection.
The next verse says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world,” then what? “The love of the Father is not in him.” I hope some lights are coming on here. The picture here of the world is a system of thoughts, ideas, practices, patterns and pleasures that are set up against God, His Word and His ways. The Bible is clearly saying that love for that system and love for God cannot coexist. Love for the world and love for God cannot coexist.
He defines love for the world here as the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life. It’s the desire for things we don’t have and pride in what we do have. It’s the desire for material pleasures, material possessions, sexual pleasures, selfish pursuits, higher positions, greater luxuries, nicer comforts— all in ways that pull us away from God, His Word and His ways.
At that point you might say, “Wait. So should I not desire a home in the world? Do you have a house? How about a spouse—should I not desire a spouse? Should I not desire a child or children? Should I not desire friends, a job and some rest on the weekend, or fun in my life, a healthy body, and a variety of other good things in the world? Should I not desire these things?” And the answer is: no. You shouldn’t—unless those desires are driven first and foremost by a desire for God.
Follow with me here. Do you desire a spouse merely for selfish pleasure, or do you desire a spouse so that God might be glorified in the selfless love you will show that spouse? Do you desire marriage so that you might grow to love and enjoy God more with a husband or wife as you display the gospel for the glory of God in the world? A desire for a spouse is intended to be grounded in a desire for God. So apply that to everything else. The Christian life is now a life in love with God over anything and everything in this world, which means that anything and everything in this world is simply an opportunity to know and show the love of God more.
This totally changes everything about the way you view life. Some of you are thinking, “Well, that sounds extreme. You’re just saying God is your life.” Yes! Jesus is your life is what it means to be a follower of Jesus. He’s your life and everything revolves around Him. Everything. So as a student, as a young single, I pray for you. So many of you are surrounded by so many temptations to worldliness that you wonder if it’s even possible to love God in the midst of it. It is. The ways of this world are passing away.
I guarantee you that 30 or 40 years from now, or 30-40 billion years from now, you will not regret living with a love for God above everything else. You will not regret living according to God’s ways instead of living for the ways of this world. I guarantee it. That will change the way you view everything in your life.
As a single, as a student, in marriage, in parenting—let’s go back to that. We are no longer parenting to raise children to be successful in all the ways of the world that are going to pass away. We are setting them up for destruction if that’s what we’re focused on. It’s not loving to our children. No, we raise our children to know and love God—and that changes everything. Sure, we’ll raise them to get a job, but not because we’re training them for a casual, comfortable spin on the American Dream. It’s because we’re training them to love and glorify God by working hard, to love and glorify God by providing for a family, to love and glorify God by spending their lives—whatever vocation they’re in and the resources they have—for the spread of the gospel in a world of urgent spiritual and physical need.
It’s all driven by love for Go and, a desire for God. When the love of the Father is in you, you start to see everything around you as an opportunity to love God more. You start to approach life and every facet of it this way, then 1 Corinthians 10:31 makes sense: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” because you’re driven by the love of God.
I fear that so many professing Christians don’t know this kind of experience of God’s love. See the connection here. Many professing Christians love the things of this world so much because they know the love of God so little. We’ve actually convinced ourselves that the ways of this world are better than He is and it clearly shows we just don’t know Who He is. Because if we would just trust Him, His ways are so much better. He is so much better. First John 2:15 is telling us if we’d just realize the greatness of God’s love for us, when the love of the Father is in us, then what He will do is wean us off a desire for the things of this world, because we’ll see them for what they are. They’re empty and they don’t last. He’s full and He lasts forever.
The challenge for each of us—and I include myself in this—is that so many of us are caught up in a tangled web of worldliness. We’re wondering, “How do I get out? How do I love God and not the things of the world?” I hope you’re wondering that. If you’re not wondering that, if you’re at home in a tangled web of worldliness, that’s far more alarming. I pray that God will open your eyes to how destructive that is, so you’ll then say, “I want out of the web of worldliness.”
If in your heart you would say, “I want to experience more of God’s love for me. I want to trust Him more. I want to follow Him more in a way that frees me from the things in this world,” then I want to encourage you, this is what being a church is all about. It’s what this church must be about. As pastors and members of this church, we want to help one another grow in love for God, because we’re bombarded everywhere else in the world with all kinds of messages contrary to this Word. So we want to help one another.
This will be a process over time. It’s not like we can just get out of that web. But week after week, as a church, it’s opening up God’s Word, seeing what it says about money, seeing what it says about sexuality, seeing what it says about anger and lust and marriage and parenting, saying, “How can we follow this and not the ways of this world?” For us to do that together, all of this starts with you and me saying to God, “I want to love You. I don’t want to love the things of this world—I want to love You. So help me.”
We must believe that by God’s grace, Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient to cover over all our sin. Every time we fall, if by God’s grace we confess our sins, we will be cleansed from all unrighteousness. We must walk with a desire for obedience to Him, saying, “God, help us do what’s in this Word; help us show Your love for the world around us in the process. God, give us Your love—a radical kind of love— for those in need around us, here in Washington, DC and around the world.” In all of this, we are saying we want to experience the love of God to the fullest, knowing we’re forgiven of sin, knowing we have fellowship with God, knowing what it means to overcome the evil one. God’s Word is holding out eternal life to us—to you, to me and to us together.
When I say that, please don’t just think about heaven. Some of you have been thinking this whole time, “I just want to know if I’m going to heaven. Tell me how I can make sure I’ll be there. What boxes do I need to check off? I just want to get there.” Ladies and gentlemen, heaven is not the goal. God is the goal. That’s a very different way of thinking. If you don’t want God, you won’t have heaven. If you don’t want God now, you won’t have heaven in eternity. That’s the whole point.
Eternal life is found in God and it’s not just in the future—it’s right now. Eternal life is now. So do you want God? Do you want life? For all who do, then trust in Jesus alone as the Son of God and the Savior from sin. Many of you have never done that and I urge you to do that today. That is the beginning of the Christian life. But it is not the end. It is just the beginning. So trust in Jesus, then keep trusting in Jesus as Savior and Lord—He is better than the ways of this world. And as you obey Him, as you show His love to others, His love comes to life in you. In all of this, you experience God’s love for you in your heart in a way that weans you off the ways of this world. This is eternal life and you will know that you have it. Let’s pray. I want to invite you to bow your heads with me. First and foremost, I want to invite you to look to Jesus as the Son of God and the sacrifice for your sin. Some of you have never looked to Jesus that way. I invite you to call out for God to save you from your sin and put your trust in Jesus today. Students, adults, all ages across this room, I invite you to trust in Jesus. If you’ve been trusting in Jesus for years, I invite you to affirm that again now.
Father, we praise You for Your forgiveness of our sin. We praise you that we know You were from the beginning. And we say together to You, we want to obey You as Lord of our lives. We want to keep Your Word, keep Your commandments, because they are good, because they are the way to life. So help us, we pray. Wean us off the things of this world and our love for the things of this world in each of our lives and help us together to spur one another on in this way. Cause Your love to come alive in us in greater and greater ways. Make us a people who are marked by sacrificial, radical, selfless, generous love for one another and for the world around us.
O God, we want to experience Your love in greater and greater and greater ways. We don’t want to settle for the mud and mire of a drab, deceived Christianity. We want to experience eternal life in You. So help us, we pray, to walk in this life in a way that is good for us and glorifying to You. May it be so, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
According to the sermon, what is the greatest present challenge facing the church in the west?
How has the seduction of the world hindered you from following Jesus?
How do the false foundations of assurance deceive us?
What is the significance of the first assurance of salvation explained in this sermon?
Why can love for the world and love for God not coexist?
“I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church.”
– Charles Spurgeon
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
– 1 John 2:15
“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – Is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
– 1 John 2:16–17
False Foundations of Assurance
- Religious heritage
- Church involvement
- A moral lifestyle
- Intellectual knowledge
- Active ministry
- A guilty conscience
- Positive thinking
- A past decision
“. . . if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
– Romans 10:9
“. . . repent and believe in the gospel.”
– Mark 1:15
1. Are you trusting in Jesus alone as the Son of God and Savior of your sin?
“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.”
– 1 John 5:13
“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
– 1 John 1:6–7
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
– 1 John 1:9
“He is the propitiation for our sins . . .”
– 1 John 2:2
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works . . .”
– Ephesians 2:8–9
2. Are you obeying Jesus alone as the Lord of your life?
“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”
– 1 John 2:3–6
3. Are you showing the love of God to others?
“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. 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. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in 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.”
– 1 John 2:7–11
“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.”
– 1 John 3:14
“. . . if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”
– 1 John 3:17
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
– James 2:14–17
4. Are you experiencing the love of God for you?
“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”
– 1 John 2:12–14
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
– 1 Corinthians 10:31