1 John Series

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Knowing that We Know God; 1 John, Part 1

1 Knowing God—Part 1—1 John 1:1–4

2 Knowing God—Part 2—1 John 1:1–4

3 Knowing God—Part 3—1 John 1:3

4 Knowing We Know; Three Tests—1 John 1:5–7

5 Enemy within—Part 1—1 John 1:5–10

6 Enemy within—Part 2—1 John 1:5–10

7 Jesus Our Defense—Part 1—1 John 1:8–2:2

8 Jesus Our Defense—Part 2—1 John 1:8–2:2

9 How God Makes Us Loyal—1 John 2:1–2

10 How God Makes Us Love—1 John 2:3–11

11 Knowing that We Know—1 John 2:3–11

12 How God Makes Us Grow—1 John 4:2–3


Knowing that We Know God; 1 John, Part 1—September 11, 1994

1 John 1:1–4

As we have done for the last couple of years, we start in the fall (which is now), and we’re going to proceed through the next 9 or 10 months (the next year essentially) to look at a particular book of the Bible consecutively, going right through it, passage by passage, chapter by chapter and so on. We’ve done that for the last few years, and this year we’re going to take a look at the first letter, the first epistle, of John the apostle, the same one who wrote the gospel of John.

We’re going to be taking a look at this small, short, but really significant book (1 John). Tonight I’m going to read you the first four verses, which give us the nub of what the whole book is about. We’re going to take a look at that tonight to begin to get into this great teaching. Instead of looking at Paul (which we were looking at the writings of Paul a couple of years ago), instead of looking at Peter’s works (which is the writer we were looking at last year), we have John this year.

There’s nothing more interesting than looking at the same truth through three different personalities to see our individuality is intact. In fact, we don’t become less of who we are. We don’t become less of an individual when we become Christians but more of an individual. We’re going to see on the other hand the same themes. There are the same great truths that dominate all of these men’s writings. Let me just read to you from 1 John 1:1–4.

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.

This is God’s Word

There are many great themes in this passage. There are many important themes in this passage we will be looking at all year. Let’s get acquainted with them. Let’s introduce ourselves to them. There is a reason why he is writing. He says, “I write this to make our joy complete.” Now I suppose it’s very natural to read that and see the word our and think John is using the editorial we. It’s normal for a writer to talk about himself and, instead of saying, “My joy,” say, “Our joy.” The editorial we is often used, but that’s not the case here.

John is not saying, “I’m writing to you these things, I want you to read all these things, I want you to understand and grasp all these things so I can be happier.” It’s possible a person could write for that reason. That’s not the point. If you read through the four verses, you’ll see in the beginning when John says the word we or our, he is talking about the apostles who were eyewitnesses of the events of Jesus’ life.

He says, “We looked at him. We felt him. We saw him.” He is talking about us, we the eyewitness. Then in verses 2 and 3 he says, “I’m telling you about what we saw, because I want you to know what we know, and I want you to experience what we’ve experienced through Jesus.” So by the time you get down to verse 4, he is really not talking about we, meaning himself. He is not even talking about we, meaning the apostles. He is talking about us Christians.

Therefore, he says, “Everything I’m writing to you is to get us …” That’s what’s so wonderful. Not just you, but us. There’s a whole sermon here I could go to. There’s a tangent here I’ve thought about, but I’m not going to get to it because it’s not the main point of this text. It’s not the main point of this verse. John’s joy cannot grow unless his brothers’ and sisters’ joy is growing. This guy is no individualist. There really is no such thing as individualistic Christianity.

John doesn’t say, “I can get happier even though you’re not.” John can’t say, “You can get happier though I’m not.” John says, “The things I’m telling you about, the things I want you to get ahold of here, I want you to get ahold of because I want you to have that fullness of joy, complete joy. My joy can only increase as your joy increases.” That’s another whole sermon, and I won’t go down that track.

What John is saying is there is a connection between Christian hearts. There is a connection. It is impossible for us to grow in joy individually. If you, for example, are trying really hard. You know, you show up at a church. Maybe you show up at a couple of churches because you want teaching. You want inspiration. You want help in some way. You want your spiritual life cultivated, and so you come. Then you go back, and you might know a couple of people. You might even know some other folks at this church or that church.

Basically it’s you and God, period. You work on your own spiritual life. You say, “It’s a private thing. I don’t like to talk to other people about my faith. I don’t like to talk to them about their faith. It’s a private thing. I’m working that sort of thing out.” John says, “That’s impossible. Your joy will not increase by itself. It can’t. Our joy.” That’s not the main point. His main point is it’s possible to have what he calls here joy complete. What does he mean? I’ve been thinking a lot about this for actually several weeks now because I’ve known this was coming up. You know, you read all the different commentaries.

Most of the commentators say, “Well, complete joy … complete joy, full and total, perfect joy, which is what John is talking about here … obviously that’s not something that’s possible on earth. So John must be talking about the fact that some day in the future, the end of time, the great day, the eternal state, it will be possible for us to grow in the knowledge of these things and grow in the certainty of these things and grow in the experience of these things until we get to the place where our joy is full and complete. So John is talking about something way off in the future.”

I’m sure there’s a sense in which that’s true, but I believe that not only here but in a number of other places (Paul talks about it and John talks about it in his gospel), it’s possible to have a kind of fullness of joy right now which is tremendously profound and just can’t be stopped. There’s a fullness that, let me say, is possible in this life. There’s a fullness of joy that’s subterranean.

Now here’s what I mean by that. We used to live in Philadelphia, and we used to live up in Abington Township. We lived on the side of a hill. It took us a while to figure something out. We had a house, and it had a basement in it and had a little yard. It was on the side of a mountain. If any of you are from that area, you might even know. It’s where Fitzwatertown Road comes down the side of the mountain just before it crosses Susquehanna Road. It’s not a big mountain, but there it is. We’re all on a slope there.

One of the things I noticed is even when it was very, very, very dry (we had a dry summer), things stayed green. I mean, everything grew. The weeds grew if you didn’t watch them. I mean, everything that was in our yard grew. It stayed green. It stayed kind of damp. When it did rain, our basement filled up. It didn’t seem like it was appropriate. It didn’t seem like the amount of rain coming down should mean I should spend the next four hours in the middle of the night bailing, which I often did because of the water pouring into the house.

After awhile, most of the other people who owned property there (we weren’t told about this when we were buying the property of course, but I guess we should have maybe talked to our neighbors) said, “Oh yeah. We’ve lived here for years. There’s a river underneath that runs under all of this division. There’s a river here. It’s a subterranean river. It doesn’t have a name. Nobody can really trace it, but we know there’s a huge and deep river that runs underneath, which means when it’s externally dry, it’s always still moist enough for things to grow. When it actually gets wet, it gets really wet! Not only do the waters come down, but the waters come up.”

Now it is possible for Christians to have a joy and a kind of joy that’s based on the two factors we’re going to be talking about all year, the two factors we’ll mention here in a moment. John says there’s a particular kind of joy that grows out of fellowship with God, fellowship with the Father and the Son. There are other kinds of joy. There are lots of other kinds of joy, and there’s nothing wrong with them. There is joy that comes down from above, in a sense. There’s external joy. Think of it as the rain or the sun.

In other words, you go through life, and sometimes people are stroking you and patting you on the back and telling you you’re doing a great job. Other times, people are looking at you like, “How could you have done that?” Sometimes the things you do succeed, and sometimes the things you do just seem to fail. Sometimes it’s hot and parched. Other times, the rain comes down. So there it is.

There’s nothing wrong with those kinds of joy. John says there is a possibility of having a subterranean river of joy that is there underneath everything else. When you see a person like this, you find, for example … It’s all through the Scriptures. You have it in Psalm 1. You have it in Jeremiah 17. It says the godly person, even when the drought comes, does not fear when the heat comes, because the roots go deep and get the water underneath even when there’s no water coming down. When the water does come down, the water comes up too.

In other words, a person like this would always be able to find that even in very hard times, and even profound grief, underneath it there is a river that does not stop flowing. Now I don’t know how to describe this really well, but I’m making an effort. Those of you who know it, know what I’m talking about. You see, there is a Christian joy that when I say it’s subterranean, that means there is no unhealthy psychological idea that says if you have Christian joy, it means no matter what happens, you’re just happy. You’re praising the Lord.

“Mother fell off and broke her leg. Father just died of a heart attack. Praise the Lord. I know it’s God’s will. Nothing is going to get me down.” That is not what we’re talking about here. That is not complete joy. There are people who have decided, “That’s it!” In other words, “I’m going to act as if everything is happy all the time.” No, there is a kind of subterranean joy that never stops flowing, and it coexists with terrible circumstances. It can coexist with it.

That means you feel those terrible circumstances. You do have grief if your father dies … tremendous grief. Look at it. Here’s Jesus Christ and there’s Lazarus, one of his best friends. Lazarus is dead, and Jesus weeps because he is a human being, because he is a perfect human being. He weeps not because he is a weak human being … because he is a perfect human being, because it’s perfect, it’s right, it’s godly, it’s holy to weep and to grieve in the face of death and brokenness.

But Jesus also has an exaltation of spirit underneath all. He is the most discouraged person who never got depressed you will ever see. He is constantly discouraged. I can use the word discouraged. What else do you say in the garden? “Father, I don’t have any strength left. I’m beaten down.” He is always weeping, but there is a river that never stopped flowing. That’s what we’re talking about here. It is possible.

One of the verses I love the most in this entire book is not only here at the beginning. I believe he sums up this at the end as well. At the very end, John returns to his theme and, just like here, he says, “I write this so you can have this fellowship with God and we can all have this great joy.” At the end of the book, he says in 5:13 and 19 (around in there), “I write these things so that you may know that you are of God and that the whole world lieth in wickedness.”

The reason I say it that way is every translation translates it differently. At the end of the book, John says, “We know we’re of God. I’ve written you this book so you can know you’re of God, even though the whole world lieth in wickedness.” Everybody translates that differently because literally he says, “The whole world lies in the Evil One.” It’s John’s way of saying, “I know this world is a terrible place. I know this world lies under the power of some tremendous evil forces.”

When John wrote this book, he was very old. From what we can tell, he was 80 or 90 or something like that. You can see that by reading through it, and you see he keeps calling his hearers, “My children.” It’s hard to find an idealistic 85-year-old man. By the time you’re 85, no matter how idealistic you were when you started, no matter how optimistic a personality you were when you started, your illusions have all been dashed. You know, like he knows, the world lies under the force of tremendous powers of darkness.

Yet, he says, “You can know you’re of God. You can have this complete joy. You can have this subterranean experience.” What happens to you even when things are terrible, even when you’re experiencing tremendous grief, a person who has this sometimes walks around and says, “I’m weeping. I’m brokenhearted. But why? What is holding me up? There is something keeping me from being absolutely in despair. I can’t despair. I won’t despair. It’s not even something I’m trying to avoid or trying to do. There’s something keeping me up. It’s that river. It’s possible. It’s possible to have that kind of joy that’s there all the time.”

Then, of course, when good things do begin to rain down on you, you’ll find that not only does the water come down, but it comes up, because you know the one who is raining down on you is the God you love and the God you know and the God who knows you. Now having said that, joy is possible. Infallible joy. When you have this joy, at the very least, it kind of rolls under the house and just keeps things damp all the time. You know?

On the other hand, sometimes it’s defiant. The thing about this joy is this joy creates a defiance in you, a humble defiance. Don’t ask me how that works, but it’s there. That defiance comes like this. When you have had this joy for a while, when you know this kind of joy that is not based on your circumstances but comes up from the ground, comes out deep from within you, the reason you get a kind of defiance after awhile is you say, “I know there is no possibility. I can’t imagine a condition … there is no condition … that can take this away from me. Nothing can take this away from me. The whole world lieth in the Wicked One, but nothing can take it away from me.”

It’s impossible because it’s not based on anything out there. Sometimes the most wonderful thing that can happen to you is to have every external source of water dry up. Sometimes it’s the best thing. You know, you don’t realize what you really draw your delight from. You say, “I’m a Christian,” but you don’t know what you draw your delight from until it’s taken away from you. Then you start to feel like, “I’m going to die of thirst. I feel so parched.”

You find it enables you or even forces you to go into the ground, to dig your wells deeper into this thing we have, the experience of God, knowing God. Now I’ve been saying all this by way of introduction. Next week we get back into more of the details of how you know God, but I’m not quite done yet.

This joy comes from two factors, and I’m going to lay them in front of you. Then I’m going to tell you what each factor is. I’m going to ask you some questions here so you can analyze where you are with regard to them. Then I hope you’ll realize we’re going to be looking all year at each of those factors. The joy John is talking about, the joy David is talking about, the joy Jeremiah is talking about, the joy Paul is talking about, the joy Jesus talks about, the joy Peter talks about is not a joy that can be gotten through direct effort.

What I mean by that is you can’t go right for it. You can’t get it directly. You can’t say, “Show me how to find joy.” If you respond to this kind of sermon, if you’re even here saying, “I want to be happy …” Jesus put it best when he said, “Blessed are those who are poor. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. Blessed are the meek.”

The most wonderful thing about the Beatitudes in my estimation is not what he does say but what he doesn’t say. One of the most telling things in Jesus’ teaching is what he doesn’t say. He never, ever, ever says in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after blessedness.” Blessedness always comes from hungering and thirsting after something else. You never, ever find this joy by working on it directly. No, this joy is always the result of the inner play of factors in your life. There are two factors John mentions.

John says there are basically two factors. I’ll describe them here. One of them is more or less what I would call an active discipline. The other one is more of a passive thing, a passive discipline. One is more of an active experience; one is more of a passive experience. By that I mean one is an experience you really discipline yourself to do and go after. The other one is more of an experience you receive. These two things are the ground of this subterranean stream of joy. We know what those two things are. The first thing is …

1. Knowing God

Knowing the Father and the Son. It mentions it right here in verse 3. Why is he telling us everything? Why is he writing all this? He says, “The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you …” Why does John proclaim the gospel? That you may know you have eternal life. “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard so you may have fellowship with us whose fellowship is with the Father and the Son.”

Then he right away says, “The reason we’re writing this to you is so your joy may be full.” So joy comes out of this kind of fellowship. Let me put it to you this way. It’s possible not just to sort of say your prayers. That’s not what John is talking about. He is talking about an exchange. When you pray, when you interact with God, do you interact? Everybody is into interactive this and interactive that. Interactive television. Interactive radio. Interactive everything. But a lot of us haven’t gotten into the interactive age when it comes to prayer.

Do you know there’s an exchange going on? Can you show me where, can you describe, can you articulate to me God is teaching you things, he is restraining you from things, he is counseling you? Is he teaching you? Is he counseling you? Is he supporting you? Is he showing you things? Do you sense that? Do you sense he is listening to you? Is there an exchange going on?

So the question I ask you is … Is your religion flat, one-dimensional? Is it something you believe, you sort of subscribe to the way you subscribe to the Rotary Club oath, the Boy Scout oath, and that sort of thing? Do you subscribe to it that way? Let me put it to you this way. Do you know him? Is there a personal dealing between you and God? Do you sense these things happening to you? Is there anything about you that indicates you have that kind of personal interactivity in your prayer life? That’s the first thing. John says if you have that, then you’ll get this kind of joy.

The second thing John says you need to have, the second factor in this subterranean joy, is not mentioned in these four verses but comes up again and again. That is …

2. Assurance of salvation

Assurance that you’re loved, assurance that you’re accepted. See, he says at the end and a number of other places … Chapter 2:3, says, “We know that we have come to know him if …” Then he goes on. Do you see? We said the first factor in this joy is to know him, but the second factor in the joy is to know you know him. John says it’s possible not only for a Christian to know him, but it’s possible to know that you know him, to be absolutely certain, to be out of the tentative.

Now let me just ask you a couple of application questions here. Test yourself here. If somebody says, “Are you a Christian?” are you the kind of person who says, “I hope I’m a Christian. I’m trying to be a Christian. I really want to be a Christian, but nobody knows for sure”? There’s no way you have that subterranean flow. There’s no way you have that river. Do you know why? Christianity is the only, only, only religion of all the philosophies and all the religions of the world that grants you the possibility of absolute assurance of where you stand with God now.

Do you know why? It’s really pretty simple. Every other religion says you’re saved by your life. It’s more popular than ever to say that, but people today say, “Well, it doesn’t matter what you believe. It doesn’t matter where you go to church. It doesn’t matter the ritual. It doesn’t matter your race, creed, or color and all that. All that matters is how you live.” I hear that all the time. “All that matters is whether you’re a decent person, whether you’re a moral person, how you live.”

Therefore, that’s really the case. All other religions say you’re saved by your life. Therefore, you can’t be sure you’re saved until your life is done. So you can never know. Christianity is the only religion that says you’re saved by somebody else’s life. You’re saved by the life of Jesus Christ. It’s who he was that brings you into relationship with the Father. See, every other relationship says you’re saved by your life so you can’t know you’re saved until your life is over, till all of it’s in.

Christianity is the one religion that says you’re saved by his life and, therefore, if you’re resting in that, you can know you’re saved now. Therefore, Christianity offers you this. I know a lot of people don’t like it. They don’t like the fact that there are arrogant people who say they know they’re right with God. Because there are people who say that in arrogance, it’s very common for people to say, “Oh, how arrogant it is for you to say you know that you know, you know you’re of God, you know you’re accepted, you know you’re his, you know you’re well-pleasing to him.”

The Bible says, “Yes, of course, you can say you know arrogantly, but you also can know in utter humility.” So you see these two things have to happen. So let me ask you that question. This is a pretty simple one. This is the end. This is the last question. This is really the end of the message, this overview of the beginning of 1 John and his themes. Let me ask you something. Do you really know, are you 100 percent sure, is there a very, very deep certainty that you’re his? Even though the world lies in wickedness, even though you see yourself with all your flaws, in spite of all your struggles, in spite of all your wrestlings, in spite of all your failings, do you know?

I’m going to put it to you another way. Can you see the divine work in you so you say, “I know he is in me”? I’ll put it another way. Can you see things about yourself that are impossible to explain except in terms of God so that you know? Do you know? If you don’t know, you can’t have this subterranean flow that’s always there that keeps you up no matter what so you ultimately will never, ever sink.

Those are the two things. You have to have regular experience of communion with him, of his love shed abroad in your heart, a sense of dealing, a sense that you really have interactivity with God. On the other hand, you have to know that’s not an illusion but he absolutely loves you and completely accepts you, and you are well pleasing in his sight. Do you know those things? Those are the two things we’re going to keep coming back to and keep coming back to and keep coming back to.

What’s very interesting is there is really no way you can get around this. Christianity offers you something through these sorts of things. Knowing Jesus Christ, who was seen and touched and felt, who came in the flesh, did these things for you … If you are sure of that, you can be sure of that. Then you can face everything. Look at the techniques. Read a book. Go get a book out of the bookstore that says, “How to handle worry.” Do you know what they’ll say?

First of all they’ll say, “Well, remind yourself worry is debilitating and it doesn’t work. Remind yourself if you worry too much about the exam, you might actually hurt yourself and fulfill the very thing … You may cause the very thing you’re worried about. Worry doesn’t work.” That might be the first thing it says. Then the second thing it says is, “When you get worried, use this thought substitution technique and think this instead of this.” That’s a technique. That’s all it is.

Now don’t you see? Sometimes that will work, but a lot of times it will be overwhelmed. Christianity gives you something so much greater. It says if you know these things are true, if you know he died on the cross for you, if you know the Word of life became flesh and died on the cross for you and you know that, then you have a subterranean flow that will face anything. That’s not a technique.

Let me ask you something. You’re ready to go on an airplane. You’re worried. Airplanes crash. People are killed everywhere. Body parts all over. You start to get on the plane, and you’re worried. What are you going to do? Are you going to use a technique? You’re going to say, “Well, you know, worry doesn’t really help much. Worry doesn’t change anything.” Or maybe you should say, “You know, I know what the chances are, mathematical chances, of me being killed on landing here are very slim.” So you’re working on technique.

Or else you turn around as a Christian does and say, “I know the Creator of the universe, the one who invented life, the Word of Life, the one who was there at the beginning, was willing to die for me. He was willing to be turned into body parts for me. Now if that’s true, then I know even though bad things can happen here and they can happen on this plane, I have the one who really counts, who is working all these things out for good in my life. He is overruling these things. Everything that’s going on is going on out of his loving purpose. Someday he is going to come back, and he is going to put all of this brokenness to rest, and he is going to heal it all.

Do you want a technique, or do you want to know that you know the Word of Life died for you, shed his blood for you? Don’t you see? There’s only one way to get a joy that’s infallible, to know the Father and the Son and to know that you know the Father and the Son. Do you know that? This book will tell you much more about how you can. So come back. Let’s pray.


Knowing that We Know God; 1 John, Part 1—September 18, 1994

1 John 1:1–4

We’re looking this year at 1 John, the first epistle of John. The passage today is the very first four verses, which we looked at in a sort of introductory way last week, but now we’re going to go a little more into detail. Let me read it to you. First John 1:1–4.

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.

This is God’s Word

Now we said last week here in verse 4, John says it’s possible to have complete joy. Complete joy is possible, a fullness of joy, a joy that helps you face anything. Now it falls to us this week to ask ourselves … How does John say that joy can be arrived at? I think most wise people have come to know (and this isn’t necessarily something only Christians know or only the Bible tells us about) in general joy isn’t something you can get by seeking it directly. Joy is a byproduct of seeking something else.

There are certain chemicals you can’t actually create by trying to create them, but they are created as a byproduct of a process by which you create something else. In the same way, you see the Beatitudes (we mentioned this last week) never say, “Blessed is that man who hungers and thirsts after blessedness,” but, “Blessed is the one who hungers and thirsts after [something else].” If you hunger after righteousness, you get blessedness. If you hunger after blessedness, you get neither righteousness nor blessedness. That’s the point of the Scripture.

Most people realize, “If I go out to try to be happy, I don’t get happy. If instead I go out and try to do right, if I go out and try to live a balanced life, if I aim for other things, joy comes. If I aim for joy, it doesn’t happen.” That’s the same thing here. The kind of joy Paul is talking about, the magnificent joy, the joy unspeakable and full of glory Peter talks about, joy I can’t describe, comes as a result of the interplay of other factors. What are those?

Well, they’re here in verses 1–3. In verses 1 and 2, we see John is talking about the objective truth of Jesus Christ. He says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim … The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it …”

So the first thing he tells us is he is one of the apostles who actually saw Jesus. He was with him before his resurrection. He was with him after his resurrection. He saw he was a historical person. Jesus Christ and the events surrounding his life really happened. John says, “They’re an objective reality. We testify to it. We are eyewitnesses. Hear our testimony.” That’s what he says.

Then secondly, he says in verse 3, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so …” So what? So that what? So you know you’re right? You know Jesus Christ is a reality? You know he really was born and died and raised from the dead? No. Believe it or not, as wonderful as that is, that’s not the end in itself. It says, “… that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”

So secondly, in order to have joy, you don’t just have to be convinced that the testimony of the apostles to the object of the truth of the gospel events is true, but you also have to not just believe in this objective truth of Jesus but in the subjective. You must have a subjective experience of him, an experience of fellowship with him, of personal dealing and exchange with him. He says we have fellowship with the Father and the Son.

Do you see? Jesus is gone historically. He is physically gone. He is not here, but it’s in the present tense. We have fellowship with the Father and the Son. So those two things together are what bring joy: understanding the objective reality (the objective truth) and a subjective experience of fellowship with God (or what some people call and what other places in the Bible call knowing God).

In John 17, and elsewhere (John wrote the gospel of John), he says, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you … and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” To know God is the essence of eternal life. It’s the essence of what it means to be a Christian. That’s what John is saying. These two things are the things you have to have if you want to have this unspeakable joy. There’s no other way. You have to have them both. You have to believe our testimony and share in our fellowship with him.

Now what I want to do tonight is talk about that second part, because that’s what the book of John is about. First of all, let’s make a preliminary statement about the balance here. Christianity absolutely refuses to be either a left-brained or a right-brained religion. We tend to be either analytical or intuitive. We tend to be people who either like the intellectual or we like the experiential. All the philosophies of the world, I believe, and all of the religions of the world tend to go toward one or the other.

Christianity refuses to be classified as either. Because it is both, it is therefore neither. Because what we have right here in the beginning is John saying, “You have to understand.” He doesn’t come and say, “The great thing about being a Christian is you have this mystical oneness with God. First of all, there’s an objective truth, an objective reality. There are historical facts you have to believe.”

You see, Christianity is mystical. We’re going to look at that this week and next week. Oh my, it is! Christianity promises you intimacy with the Infinite. Christianity promises you it’s possible to actually feel his love shed abroad on your heart. Paul says the one who said in the beginning, “Let the light shine out of darkness,” has shined into our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

When Moses said to God, “Show me your glory,” God said, “I can’t show you my face.” Remember on Mount Sinai (Exodus 33)? In one of the most puzzling and romantic and adventurous and frightening and exciting passages, Moses says, “I want to see your glory. I want to come in. I want to know you personally.” What he means is, “I want to see you face to face.” God says, “Well, that would kill you, so I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’ll show you my back parts.”

Now of course he is speaking here as the theologians say anthropomorphically. He is speaking in ways we can understand. He talks about his arm. He talks about his eye. He talks about his back parts. What it really means is, “Moses, I can’t let you right in the front door. I’ll tell you what. My glory is so great that just my back parts will transform you, but I can’t show you my face. I can’t give you that kind of intimacy.”

You know, just seeing his back parts, Moses became radiant with the glory of God that when he came down the mountain, the Israelites couldn’t look on his face. They said, “Put a veil over your face. We can’t stand it. You’re too holy. You’re too much like God. There’s too much of him on you.” Surely this is why the New Testament makes no sense without reading the Old Testament. If you understood the Old Testament, you would understand when Paul says in 2 Corinthians that through Jesus Christ, God has shined into our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The knowledge of the glory.

He is not saying only, “You have to believe these objective facts. The mind.” He says, “God has shone into our hearts.” It’s possible to have that intimacy Moses wanted. We’re going to have it. We’re going to see him face to face, but even now, we already have glimpses of the face of God. You can have that kind of personal interaction, fellowship, communion, personal connection. That’s what Christianity teaches, but first, here’s what’s so wonderful.

First, Paul says, John says (they all say, but John right here says), “You have to believe Jesus Christ was a physical being, that he really was a human being. He really was born. He really died. When he rose again from the dead, it was a physical thing. We touched him. We felt him. Our own eyes …” Do you see how he puts it? “Our own eyes have seen him.” One of the reasons John is saying this and then turns around and talks about fellowship is because he will not let us be either right brained or left brained.

You know, in the days he was writing, he had two kinds of heresies he was dealing with. They’re the same two kinds of heresies we have now. On the one hand, he had the Gnostics, which were the prototypes of what we call today the New Age movement. It’s been around for a long time. On the other hand, you had the materialists. The Gnostics believed only the spiritual was real and the physical wasn’t very real. It wasn’t real. The physical was an illusion. It’s going to pass away. Only the spiritual is real.

The materialists said only the physical was real. The spiritual is an illusion. See, they’re opposites, but we have the same people today. The New Age movement, the Gnostics say, “You know, you can create your own reality. All this is an illusion. The physical isn’t important. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.” (Get it?) “The physical shouldn’t concern us.” That’s what the Gnostics were saying. Therefore, they would not agree that God could become flesh. They didn’t believe it.

On the other hand, the materialists, for completely different reasons, could believe Jesus Christ was a great guy and he was flesh, but they wouldn’t believe he was raised from the dead, because they didn’t believe in the miraculous. They didn’t believe in the supernatural. The one said only the spiritual was real; the other said only the physical was real. As a result, John comes forward right now and says on the one hand, the doctrine of the incarnation destroys the Gnostic approach. It says God became a human being. There is objective reality. You can’t just create reality in your own way. This is not a world of illusion.

On the other hand, the doctrine of the resurrection destroys the materialist that says, “I don’t believe in the miracle.” John says, “We saw it! Five hundred people saw it. Eyewitnesses. They’re still around. Go talk to them.” So what you have here is John laying out for us the first layer. Christianity is not just all spiritual or all physical. Do you know why? Because we have a God who created both the physical and the spiritual, and he will redeem both the physical and the spiritual. We don’t choose between those things.

We’re not the kind of people who say, “All that matters is that we work for a better society.” We’re not the kind of people who say, “All that really matters is you find personal fulfillment.” Oh no! Christianity says both of those. All these dimensions have been created by God, and they’re good. They’re all tainted with sin, so they’re fallen, and they’re all going to be redeemed. All that goes to say that Christianity is not just mystical, and it’s not just intellectual. It’s not just left brain; it’s not just right brain.

It’s very mystical. On the other hand, there is objective content. There’s a body of truth you have to receive. You have to submit to it. Oh, people don’t like that idea. They love the idea of, “I can know God. Christianity allows me to have this mystical communion. I need that. I need something like that.” Then you come to … See? John says you can’t get to verse 3 unless you go through verses 1 and 2. You have to see there’s an objective truth I have to submit to.

In other words, there’s nowhere in the New Testament that says knowing God is like one hand clapping. You see? There is a rational body of truth you have to submit to. You have to check it out. You have to work through it, but then you don’t stop there. On the basis of that truth (as we’re going to see here in a second), you can know God. Now let’s take a look here at verse 3 then. First of all, you have both of these things working together. There has to be objective truth. On the other hand, there has to be mystical knowledge and intimacy with God. That’s real Christianity. They both have to happen. It’s not one or the other.

Now let’s spend the rest of our time looking at this (at least beginning to look at this) whole subject of what it means to know God. Now I’d just like to re-read verse 3 and on the basis of this, start making preliminary comments at least. We’ll see how far we get. “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” All right, here are a couple of preliminary thoughts you see taught here about knowing God. This is clear. The first thing we see is …

1. This is for everybody

This is not just for advanced trainees. John is writing a church, and he is writing all kinds of people. Later on we’re going to see he calls them fathers, young men, and little children. He is writing all sorts of people. Even though he doesn’t want them to miss out (and it’s possible for Christians to miss what is offered here), John is assuming this is for everybody.

Okay, maybe that’s obvious, but there shouldn’t be anybody who sits here saying, “Well, all this talk about contemplating God and knowing him and experiencing him … Wow. That’s for those really religious people. I’m a pretty religious person, but I’m not into all that.” This is eternal life that you know God and Jesus Christ whom he sent. Do you see what that means?

I’m sorry; this is not for spiritual Christians. This is not for advanced Christians. This is for Christians. This is for anybody who says, “I have eternal life.” Anybody who says, “I’m a Christian,” this is for you. Then secondly, interestingly enough, one of the marks … Not the only mark, not even the main mark, but one of the ways you can tell you do know God and you are having this experience is …

2. You want to share it

Did you see what John is saying? His says his joy will only be full when they have the same fellowship with God that he has. Now why I should point this out? I’ll tell you why. This flies in the face of a lot of popular conceptions. John shows us here the way you know you know God, one of the ways you know God (maybe not the main way), is you can’t wait to bring other people into the same experience.

Now that flies in the face. Not only do we have a lot of people outside the church who talk like this … They say, “Well, you know, it’s great you’re devout. It’s great you’re religious. That’s fine, but don’t try to persuade others. Don’t try to assume everybody else has to have this same experience you’ve had.”

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say I’ve heard people inside the church who say, “I have a deep faith in God, I have a deep relationship with God, but I don’t believe in talking about it. It’s a private thing. I don’t like to talk about it.” Now I’m willing to grant there are differences in temperament and personality. I’m willing to grant some people are more outspoken; other people are shyer. Some people don’t mind the kind of conflict that sometimes can come when you try to share your faith, and other people that bothers them a great deal.

So I’m not saying I don’t agree with individual differences, and I don’t see individual differences, but this is what John is really showing us. This is what the Bible says. If you don’t desperately and deeply want other people to know God, it means you don’t know him, because anybody who has ever tasted this experience feels a burden and a pressure that others around you share it. If you don’t have that pressure, if you don’t feel that pressure, you don’t have it, period.

I mean, if you have arthritis and you find a cure for arthritis, what do you say? “Well, you know, it’s a very private thing. Besides that, how do I know …?” What if you sat down and said, “Well, you know, it completely cured my arthritis. Unbelievable! It might not work for everybody”? Even if you weren’t sure it would work for everybody, wouldn’t you still crow it from the housetops?

You see, anybody who actually has this experience, when you have it, you realize you have been ushered in. You’ve been ushered in to ultimate reality. You know it. You realize this is not like really getting into a certain kind of music. This is not like getting into a certain kind of literature or art and you sit there and say, “Boy, I really dig this. I dig this, but I know most people don’t.”

Because when you get knowledge of God, when you experience this, when you realize the divine life is in you, when you become liberated from fear, when you find death has lost its sting, when you actually sense the pressure of his love on your life and sometimes actually feel the glory of God pressing down on you, sometimes … You know this is not like music. This is not like art. This is not like getting into a certain kind of sport or something. This is ultimate reality, and you have to share it, and you want to share it. If you don’t want it and you don’t feel that pressure, you have never tasted it.

I mean, take a look at 2 Corinthians where Paul says why he is preaching. He says, “The love of Christ constrains me.” The love of Christ. What does that mean? He is not saying, “Duty. I have to! I’ve been told to. God wants me to,” even though, to a great degree, there is duty. There is obligation. God does say that, but that’s not what constrains him. What constrains him? The transcendent nature of the experience itself. The love. “I have compassion for the people who haven’t experienced that. I look around and say, ‘You need this.’ ”

You know you’ve been ushered into something that’s objectively true. It’s ultimate reality; it’s not just for you. You know it instinctively, intuitively. Okay? A little test, Christian friends. Now look at yourself. I do understand there are differences in personality. I do understand there are differences in gifts. Some people have an outgoing gift, an articulation gift, and a gift to spread. I understand those differences.

Having said all that, if you find no passion, no desire to articulate and to bring in other people so they share the same fellowship you share with you, if you feel like your joy can’t be complete until they do, it means your own spiritual life right now is really dead because, you see, John can’t be happy unless everybody around him is sharing the same fellowship.

One more preliminary thing and then a basic intro just to what this thing is, and then we will close up, and we’ll come back to it next week. We’ve already seen this is for everybody. We’ve already seen if you experience it, you need to share it. You want to share it.

3. It is a common experience

Again, John says, “I want you to have our experience.” He doesn’t say, “I just want you to have your own.” In fact, as you read the whole book of John, you’ll see what the assumption is. Because he has experienced fellowship with God, he assumes he is in a position to tell you whether or not your experience with God is genuine.

In fact, as you go through the book you’ll see he is actually going to give you a series of tests. There are at least three. We’re going to get to them as we go on this fall and next spring, because at a certain point, he says, “If you say you walk with God but you’re doing this, you’re wrong. You’re self-deceived.”

Now this goes against, again, it flies against, the idea most people have today, and that is religion is such a personal and individual thing that everybody has to find God in his or her own way. You certainly can’t say to another person, “Oh, your experience of God is not valid.” How dare you say that! This tells us here one of the central glories of knowing God is that it is the same God.

See, that’s the reason why verses 1 and 2 say there’s an objective reality here from which our subjective experience springs, so everybody at any place at any time in any culture in any century is having the same experience. That’s the reason why you can have fellowship with each other because of the fellowship you have with God. The modern idea that everything is so individual and everything is so personal and nobody should ever criticize anybody else, what you’ve just said there is you have laid the basis for the absolute destruction of human community.

One of the most amazing things to Martin Luther, when he actually broke through and discovered you’re saved not by works, not by righteousness that you patch up and give to God but a righteousness God provides through Jesus Christ and gives to you … The minute he realized that, he said, “I felt I was just ushered through open gates into paradise.” He began to start to read the writings of Saint Augustine.

Here’s a guy who lived over a thousand years before Martin Luther, and he was blown away by the fact that this person had gone through all the same things and that he read his journals and he read his theology. Luther said, “This is what I am going through too. These are the same things! This is the same thing,” because, of course, it’s the same thing. Knowing God is a common experience.

Recently somebody here in the church was absolutely astonished. They picked up a book by John Newton. He was a Christian pastor who wrote letters to his friends and wrote letters to parishioners and other pastors over 200 years ago. This man said to me what absolutely astonished him as he was reading through these letters … He was not used to this. He was not used to this at all.

Every single thing John Newton was saying about how to deal with doubts and how to deal with temptation and what you do when God doesn’t seem to be very close and how to stay close to God, he said, “This described how I was doing. He nailed my situation and my issues this morning! This morning’s issues, yesterday’s issues, last week’s issues. He is talking to me! This person has the very same experience I do.”

Now what is so amazing by this? See, John says, “With us.” There is nothing more sure than that. The sociological textbook you are reading today (the brand new textbook everybody says, “Ah! This is the latest thing), 50 years from now everybody will consider it ridiculous, maybe even wicked. You read the sociological textbooks from 50 years ago, your social professors now will not just say, “This is out of date.” They’ll say, “It’s bad. It’s wicked. It’s terrible.”

There is nothing more sure than that Op-Ed pages of the New York Times today will look just as ridiculous, even “wicked,” to the trendy people 50 years from now as the Op-Ed pages 50 years ago look today. There is nothing more sure, in spite of the fact that you feel like, “We’ve finally arrived. We’re enlightened. We understand these things. Now we understand justice. Now we understand compassion. Now we understand. Fifty years ago, those poor people.”

There is nothing more sure than your grandchildren will consider you cultural jerks unless you’re a Christian and they’re a Christian. Then, in spite of those differences, your great-grandchildren, your great, great, great-grandchildren, your ancestors 500 years from now, can read your prayer diaries and your prayer journals and your wrestling with the Scripture. If they’re Christians too, they will say, “Wow! This is a brother. This is a sister. This helps me.” A common experience, knowing God.

If you are a 20-year-old African American raised in New York City and you are a mature believer and you’ve overcome the language barrier to talk to an 80-year-old mature Christian Chinese man who has lived all of his life in rural China, if you somehow can communicate through the language barrier, you will find that guy is a brother, that you have fellowship with him because you and he have fellowship with the same one. It’s the same person. It’s the same one. There’s an objective reality, you see.

I’ll tell you, the only way 20-year-old African Americans and 80-year-old Chinese people, the only way children and grandchildren’s hearts turn to each other is if they have that common experience, because everything else is going to change. Everything else. Unbelief will always change. The unbelief of 50 years from now will laugh at the unbelief of now, but 500 years from now you’ll be able to read Augustine (if he is still around) and still say, “I can learn so much from him.” Why? Because there’s a common thing.

Now let’s close up in this way. You say, “Well, okay. What is this? What is this experience?” Let me prepare you for the Lord’s Supper. Here’s what the experience is. The reason verses 1 and 2 come before verse 3 is because the essence (that’s what we’ll look at next week) of the experience of knowing God is when the mind filled with God’s truth descends into the heart, captures the imagination, makes all sorts of connections to your life, and that truth, in a sense, explodes inside of you and completely drenches not just your mind but your heart and your will in that truth.

So, for example, on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection (it’s in Luke 24), Jesus appears to these disciples, but they don’t know it’s Jesus. He talks with them, and he talks to them about the Scripture. Then they go into a house, and they sit down. It says he broke the bread. He handed it to them. It says their eyes were opened, and they recognized him in the breaking of the bread, and he vanished. They turned, and they said, “Did not our heart burn within us … while he opened the Scriptures to us?”

Now I’ll tell you what that is. You can commune with God. You can have fellowship with God right here at the Lord’s Table. What you have to do is you look at these truths. You think about what he did for you. You think about what he did. You think about his life. You think about his death. You think about his resurrection, and you say, “Lord, make this real to me.” What can happen is it can be …

The other day, for example, I was thinking about some difficulties I see in my life and in my family’s life. Just some difficulties. I was meditating on the place where it said he is a shield about you. The Lord is a shield about you. So I spent about 15 minutes on that, meditating, saying, “Lord, I know you’re a shield. I mean, if somebody gave me a test and it said, ‘True or false: is the Lord a shield?’ I would mark true.” In other words, I know it. I know it. I know it, but has it descended into my heart and caught fire?

As I was meditating on it, suddenly I realized, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. If he is always a shield …” I was sitting there saying, “If you’re a shield, why are these bad things happening?” Suddenly I realized, “Do you know what? If he is a shield, then all the bad things that happen to me are part of his shielding of me, his humbling of me, his purifying of me. Even the worst things that will happen to me are part of his shielding of me.”

I realized that’s how it worked in his life. His triumphs came through the suffering. The point is, as I was talking, as I was thinking, as I was meditating, suddenly it got real. It descends into the heart. It catches fire. Do you know what? You stop worrying. It melts the fear. It melts the confusion. You look up and you say, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he opened to us the Scripture?”

It means you have to go to the truth, knowing God is not the sound of one hand clapping. You have to go to the truth. You have to meditate on it. You have to contemplate. You have to love it. You have to submit to it. You have to reflect on it until you find that it starts to catch fire, and it will if you’ve received Christ as Savior, if he is really living within you. That can happen now. Are you ready for it? Let’s pray.

Father, we ask the Lord Jesus (not Tim, not the pastors, not the musicians up here, but the Lord Jesus) would now sit down and break the bread and pass it out to us. We pray you would open our eyes, the eyes of our hearts, so we can recognize you in the breaking of the bread. Father, give us a passion to know you. Let the truth begin to shine. Help us to see you, not just know about you, because that’s what will bring the joy unspeakable and full of glory, which will glorify you. That’s why we ask for it. In Jesus’ name we ask for it, amen.


Knowing that We Know God; 1 John, Part 1—September 25, 1994

1 John 1:3

The passage we’ve been looking at since after Labor Day is the introduction to the first letter of John. We’re reading verses 1–4. We finally come to the place (though we’ve been looking at it for three weeks) where we’re going to just consider this wonderful and important sentence in verse 3. So let me just read to you verse 3, and let us just consider it together.

3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

We want you to have fellowship with us, and our fellowship … We want you to share what we have, and what we share in, we share with the Father. We have fellowship with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. Now finally here we come today to look at what this term means. It’s an extremely pregnant term, so it’s time to deliver. It says, “And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”

The little Greek word that’s used here is a word many of you heard before. It’s koinōnia. The Greek word koinōnia means to share something, to have something in common, in koinos. We see two things just from this verse. We see the importance of fellowship with God, and then we see the nature of it. So we first see why it’s so important or how it’s important. Then secondly, we see something about what it is. So let’s just look at it in that way. Let’s look at those two things.

1. The importance of fellowship with God

It says, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us [and, therefore, with the Father and the Son] …” Let me just remind you John is an apostle. In verses 1 and 2, he says, “As apostles, as disciples, as personal associates of Jesus Christ, we saw him.” He calls him the Word of life. “We touched him.” Now when he says that, “We saw him with our own eyes. We touched him with our own hands,” he’s saying, first of all, “He really lived. He wasn’t just an idea. He really lived.”

It’s also probably talking about the fact his resurrection wasn’t just a resurrection in spirit the way the spirit of Abraham Lincoln lives on. “We touched him.” So John is saying the gospel is that Jesus Christ, Son of God, really was born, really lived, really died. “We saw him.” So the gospel is the proclamation of the events of Jesus’ life. Then John says why we’re proclaiming the gospel. “Why are we telling you the gospel? We have seen and declare this unto you that you may have fellowship with us and share in our fellowship with the Father and the Son.”

So the purpose of the gospel, the purpose of everything Jesus said and did, the purpose of all the events John is relating to them, is that they might have fellowship, is that we might have fellowship. Now what this means is not just belief in God but sharing in God, experiencing God, knowing God, fellowship with God. What the old writers used to call daily communion with God is the whole purpose of the gospel. It’s the design and the aim and the goal of everything Jesus said and did. It’s the purpose of the very declaration of the gospel.

Now this means what John is talking about is something … Let me put it to you this way. If you, as individuals, don’t sense God’s presence, if you don’t sense the warmth of his being coming down on your heart, if you don’t actually feel his love shed abroad in your heart, if when you pray you don’t sense a real personal connection with him, you are frustrating the very aim and design of the entire career of Jesus Christ. Everything he did was so you could have that. Everything he did was so you could experience that. This is life.

See, in John 17, Jesus says, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Now think of that verse. Let me give you two verses that just support what John is saying here, that the very aim of the gospel, the very aim of everything Jesus did was so you could have fellowship with him. “Now this is eternal life: that you know God and Jesus Christ whom he sent.”

Now what that means is not just that eternal life results in fellowship with God and knowing God, in personal communion with God, but that eternal life is the definition, is what eternal life consists of. This is eternal life that you know him. In other words, if you don’t know the thing we’re talking about here, if you haven’t experienced the thing we’re talking about here, you haven’t even begun to live. You don’t even understand what life is. This is life. This is eternal life: to know God.

There’s another verse in Jeremiah 9 where it says, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom. Let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me …” Now think about that. Imagine if you were (and everybody else knew) the most brilliant person in the world. The smartest person in the world. Let’s imagine you not only were, but everybody knew it. The wisest person in the world.

Think of the things you would do. Think of the doors that would be opened to you. Think of the places you would go. Think of the recognition you’d get. Or imagine you were the world’s greatest athlete, and everybody knew it. Again, think of what kind of life you’d have. Or imagine you were the sole heir of the greatest personal fortune in world history, scores of billions of dollars. What kind of life would you have? Where would you be able to go? What would you say? You’d say, “That would be living.” Any one of those! “That would be living!”

Why? When we think of living, we think of at least two things. Living means at large, power coursing through us, see? At large. Free to do things. Living also means being loved, being recognized, applause, acclaim. There’s both the freedom of being at large in the sense of being able to do and also the freedom of being accepted and being loved and being applauded and acclaimed and cheered. We say, “That’s life. If I don’t have the power to do anything, if I don’t have any love or relationship, it’s not life. That’s life.”

Well, what is Jeremiah saying? What is God saying through Jeremiah? “Let him who glories, glory in this.” What he is saying is if you know God, you have a life the mightiest person, the wisest person, and the richest person in the world has no conception of. What Jeremiah is saying, what God is saying through Jeremiah, is the applause of God, the love of God, the power of God, the satisfaction of God makes the life of the wisest, the mightiest, and the richest person in the history of the world nothing.

Those people have nothing compared to the life that comes to you from knowing God. This is what we declare. Everything God has done, everything Jesus Christ has done, was so you could have this. Do you remember that old love song by John Denver, “Annie’s Song”?

You fill up my senses like a night in a forest,

like the mountains in springtime, like a walk in the rain,

like a storm in the desert, like a sleepy blue ocean.

Well, you see, a Christian that’s true. You look at God, and you say, “Here’s why. You fill up my senses because the greatest ocean is just the outskirts of your ways. The deepest forest is just a dim reflection of your depth. The beautiful ocean is just a dim reflection of your beauty. You fill up my senses.” Life! This is eternal life. “Glory in this: that you know me.” That glory is way beyond any other kind of glory, and so on.

Now we have to move on and talk about what it is. Let’s talk about the nature of it, but before we go, the implication of this, that this is the greatest thing in life, that this is life, that you haven’t even learned to live unless you’ve experienced it, that everything Jesus has ever done, the whole purpose of all of redemptive history, is so you can sit down tomorrow and have fellowship with God. Let me just draw two implications of this. The first implication is a test. The second implication is an encouragement.

Here’s what I mean by a test. Test yourselves. This is what a Christian is. Ultimately, a Christian does have to believe in orthodox creeds and doctrine. Ultimately, in fact, a Christian does have to believe Jesus died for them and that their sins are forgiven. It’s possible to have an intellectual grasp on that only.

We have to approach this verse with fear and trembling … real fear and trembling. Here’s why. There have been many people in the history of the church (in fact I’ve seen some of them; I’ve been with some of them) who have spent all their lives defending orthodox doctrine, defending the beliefs, defending Christian morality, really believing Jesus died for them, really believing Jesus died for their sins.

They get to their deathbeds, and they come to realize they’ve never known God at all, that there’s no inner spiritual life, that they don’t know what it means to walk with him. They don’t know what it means to actually speak to him, and they find that out very often in the time of their greatest need. I’ve seen them come to realize that. What am I saying? This is the test. They have no inner life. They have no place where they actually know how to walk and talk and speak and develop and listen to God.

Now am I saying, for example, orthodox doctrine isn’t important? Of course not! How silly it is to say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as your heart is right with God.” Yes, it is like saying, “It doesn’t matter what you eat, as long as you’re healthy.” Now, you see, your health is a function of what you eat. Those things can’t be abstracted from each other. In the same way, your heart is a function. Where you are with God is a function of the truth.

As a seed must penetrate the ground for the life to be released and as a sperm must penetrate the egg for the life to be released, the Bible tells us so truth must penetrate the heart for you to be born again. Truth, orthodox belief. “We have seen him. We have declared this to you,” says John. You have to take this truth in, but the point is the penetration. The whole purpose of the truth, the whole purpose of the gospel, is it’s supposed to come in and personally change you, alter you psychologically and personally, radically, thoroughly.

It’s very, very possible (unless you have experienced fellowship with God) for, you might say, the seed of the truth … You believe it, but seeds that lie on a bookcase shelf instead of getting put in the ground just rot up there. In the same way, you can have the truth, but it’s never led you to fellowship, in which case you’re not a Christian. That’s a test.

If everything Jesus has done has been to get you to have fellowship with him, then if you really have no inner life, if you have no real spiritual life at all, if your religion is not a matter of thorough inner transformation, if your religion is all externals and compliance and behavior and ritual, you’re not a Christian. Fellowship.

Then here’s the encouragement. When you do sit down, God is not going to play peek-a-boo with you. If you say, “Ah, but so often I sit down and I pray in my life, it’s just so dry. It’s so hard.” All right. Okay, okay. Listen. There are all sorts of reasons why it can be dry. Our lack of spiritual discipline. Our lack of discipline to study and to pray and to meditate. Our lack of purity of heart. Our lack of concentration. There are all sorts of things, but you have to remember this: God is not trying to stay away from you.

The barriers are on your side, because everything he has ever done in Jesus Christ is designed to get you to the place where you can pray, to the place where you sense you’re resting in his arms, where all of your hurts are being healed, because you sense him saying to you, “You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.” The dove comes down. Yeah, that’s what God wants. That’s the encouragement. Go pray! You think he was ready for you? It says in John 4, Jesus says, “The Lord seeketh those to worship him.” He seeks us. He wants us to worship him. He wants us to rely. He wants us to fellowship with him. Okay.

2. The nature of fellowship with God

What does this word fellowship mean? It means to share. Literally we have fellowship, we have koinōnia, with the Father and Jesus Christ. Literally the word means we share in them. We hold things in common. So the question, What is this fellowship, is actually to ask, What do we share with him? What do we hold in common with him?

Now the old writers … I’m thinking of two in particular who have written wonderfully lucid and extensive things on this: John Newton and John Owen. They lived in different centuries, wrote in very different ways. They both talked a lot about communion, fellowship with God. Both of them tended to say the same thing. It says the Bible teaches us we hold certain things in common with the Godhead, with the Trinity. What it is that we have communion with God in is we share in his life, we share in his interests, and we share in communication. We have communion.

This is the way the old guys used to say it. We have communion in life, we have communion in interests, and we have communion in communication. Let me just run through those things and relate to you which one is which. First of all (and the reason we mention it first), we share in the same life. Fellowship means we have something in common. We share the same life. Now we have to mention that first because all the other kinds of communion are based on it. This is an amazing statement, but this is one of the reasons why we say fellowship with God has to go way beyond just believing and applying Christian teaching and so on.

It says, of course, in 2 Peter, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature …” We share his nature. His life comes into us. In Galatians 2, Paul says, “… I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me …” The whole idea of being born again by the Spirit means the life comes into us. Now we have to be careful, and I’ll just say it in passing. If you don’t have to say this in New York, I guess there’s no place you have to say this.

This does not mean we mystically become God himself. Very important. You know, when you have children, we now know we pass an awful lot along to them. We pass a lot of things to our children genetically. One of my sons, for example, has my eyes (poor thing). Obviously a couple of them seem to have aspects of my temperament. So I’ve passed a lot of things onto them. It doesn’t mean they aren’t their own person. They are still themselves.

The Bible says the very lifeblood of God, the very substance of God, the being of God, the Spirit of God, the divine nature of God, comes into us, and we share it. An astonishing statement. We don’t get immersed in the Godhead in the sense of we lose our individuality and we become a part of the Trinity, part of the Godhead in that sense. No.

It’s important, but nobody put this better, nobody threaded the needle better, than C.S. Lewis to show us how incredible it is, what it means to share in the divine nature but at the same time keep from going over into the mysticism idea that says basically what it means is you just simply are absorbed into the All Soul, the ground of all being, God. C.S. Lewis, in that great quote I get out at least twice a year, threads the needle. Let me show you how it works in this context.

He says, “… he will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into … a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a small scale) his own boundless power and delight and goodness.” That is what we are in for, nothing less. We share in his life.

Then secondly, we share in his interests. What does that mean? This is hard to say. I mean, I’m afraid I’m not going to say this adequately, but it’s extremely important. We get his mind. We have communion. We share his mind and his heart. This is not just prayer, and this is not just simply the infusion of the new life. We get a new mindset, and we begin to see things differently. We have his interests. The way the Puritans and the older writers used to put it is it means his priorities become our priorities because we start more and more to see life through him.

See, there’s a difference between being a religious person and fellowship with God. A religious person brings God in when there’s a problem. You bring God in at critical times. That’s not sharing his interests. Fellowship with God means instead of just bringing God in at certain times, there’s a sense in which you put God on and he becomes the spectacles through which you see everything. You know, let me see if I can get it to you out this way.

One of the neat things about marriage is (and if you had a very good marriage for a very long time, you start to see this), the other gender is a mystery. That’s one of the things that’s attractive. There’s a fundamental distinction. There are mysterious differences, but after a long period of time and if you’ve had communion with your wife (I’m speaking obviously from the male point of view, but it works absolutely the same), you very often find when you’re away from your wife and you see something, you experience something, you instantly know what she would think about it.

You instantly know what she would say about it. You instantly know how she would react. What’s amazing is you begin to realize not only do you have your view of it and your responses, but you know what she would say instinctively, and you know what she would see instinctively. You actually are completed because you have a greater range of responses. You’ve learned to look at life through her eyes.

Now the dynamic is far, far more profound when it comes to God. There are things you knew were wrong that now turn your stomach. Things you knew were sad now deeply distress you. You begin to love the things he loves, and you hate the things he hates. Everywhere you look, you see what he sees, which is light and darkness, sin and grace and redemption and eternity, everywhere.

In other words, here’s one of the great things about being a Christian and having fellowship, having communion with his interests. Christians have more joy than anybody else and also more sadness than anybody else, because you’re having every joy and every sadness twice. Every time you hear a great story, you’re actually hearing two great stories: the great story you’re hearing and the greater story of which every great story is just a type.

Every song, you’re hearing two songs. Every story, you’re hearing two stories. I mean, this is true even in the great stories and even in the trivial ones, even in the cartoons sometimes. You know, the reason my wife and I go to see The Lion King and weep … It’s a cartoon. You cannot help … It’s a good story, but you’re seeing two stories, and you know when the real King comes back, everything will be put right.

This afternoon I caught the end of The Last Starfighter. A really very well done, cute, little science fiction movie from about 10 years ago. Do you remember that? The Last Starfighter. You have Alex, who goes off into the stars and saves the universe. Then he comes back for his girlfriend, Maggie.

He shows up in their little town, in their little trailer court in California. He comes on down, and he comes down with his alien buddy in his spacesuit, and he says, “Maggie, I want to take you away because I have to keep saving the universe for a while, but I love you, and I want you to come with me.”

So what does Maggie say? “I can’t leave here. I just can’t. I can’t.” What is Alex doing? He is saying, “Listen. I love you, but if you’re going to love me, I want you to unite with me. Of course it’s going to be very frightening to leave the familiar, but I’m going to take you to a whole new realm.

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it ever entered into anybody’s heart the kinds of things that are up there for anyone who loves me. I want you to love me. I want you to unite with me. I want you to come with me. I know it’s going to be frightening, but if you’re willing to turn your back on the familiar and come with me, you’ll find yourself in a way you never did before.” You see, every story is two stories. Every song is two songs. You share in the interest. You see it everywhere. Communion. Fellowship with God.

Now last of all (this is very important, of course) is when it comes down to we not only share in life and we not only have common interests, but ultimately we share communication. Now communication is the interchange of ideas and feelings. The way you know you have fellowship with somebody is there is an interchange of both ideas and feelings. Two ways. Now it’s hard not to use the analogy of marriage again.

When you’re married, you’re married. That legal relationship never changes. Your relationship doesn’t change, but your fellowship certainly changes. It’s subject to degrees. Sometimes it’s not there at all. Sometimes there’s actually hostility. Sometimes there’s just a kind of lack of enjoyment of each other, and there’s no communication of ideas and feelings. Others times there’s tremendous enjoyment. Other times there’s tremendous intimacy.

Well that is what it means to have fellowship with God. You pour out to him; he pours out to you. Here’s how you know if you have fellowship with God. Let’s look at us to him and him to us. Here’s how it works. I’m just going to outline this for you. Us to him. Here’s how you know you’re a Christian. Here’s how you know you’re a real Christian: if you share in his life and you share in his interests, if you’ve really received the Spirit and the mind of Christ has been growing in you.

One of the things you will find is you will want to pray. I get so irritated by the tabloids and by the TV shows that say, “Does prayer work?” Now the way you can tell the difference between a religious person who doesn’t have fellowship with God and a person who shares and has communion with God is … The reason you spend time with somebody you love is just to spend time with them.

There’s a big difference between having breakfast with a friend and having breakfast as part of your business life, right? In terms of business, you always want to know if you’re going to a meeting, “Why are we here?” Right? “What am I going to get out of this?” You don’t have a business breakfast unless there’s something that’s going to happen. That’s the way the person without fellowship with God looks at prayer. “Does it work? I’m praying. Here’s my list. Am I getting anything out of it?”

The way you can tell you have fellowship with God, the way you can tell you’re really a Christian, is you pray just to spend time. That’s how you take a friend out to breakfast. If your friend feels like you have an agenda, “There are certain things I need to get out of this by 8:30,” that’s not much of a friend. That’s not fellowship. The reason you take a friend out for breakfast is you just want to be with the person. You just want to know what’s going on in the person’s life, and you want the person to know what’s going on in your life.

So the way you can tell the difference between a moralist religious person praying and a Christian who has fellowship with God is you’re just happy to praise him and to thank him and just to journal, in a sense. Pour your heart out. Tell him what’s going on. Is that how you pray? Do you want to do that? That’s a mark of somebody who has fellowship with God. Do you? Do you say, “I don’t know what to do when I pray; I have a list, and I just go on down it”? Hey, I’m all for that, but that’s the second reason you pray if you’re having fellowship with God. The first reason is fellowship with God.

Then on the other hand, there is him to us. Him to us. Now if you really have fellowship with God, not only do you find in yourself a whole new way of looking at prayer and a desire to pray and a desire just to be with him, but the other thing you know is to some degree or another (there’s a bare minimum here), you sense his presence. He lets you know he is there. Now how does he do that?

I told you before this is subject to degrees, but there’s a bare minimum. If you’re really a Christian, every Christian who is really a Christian, who has had fellowship with God, says, “There have been times in which I have felt his presence. He has let himself be known to me. He has manifested himself to me. He has shown me he is here.” Now how does he do it?

By the way, if you want a lot more information on this, the last two sermons on Ephesians 3 we did in the evening services about 13 months ago (the end of August of 1993) … Certainly most of you weren’t here then. The last two sermons on Ephesians 3 go into this in detail, but this is really what happens.

When you are having fellowship with God, you sit down, and you study his Word, and you meditate on his Word until it catches fire. The way God shows you his presence, the way he communicates to you, is the truths get big. They get big! They get huge. You know, you might be sitting down and reading (I mentioned this last week) about the fact that the Lord is a shield. About two weeks ago, I was reading on the idea that the Lord was a shield. As I was meditating on it, I suddenly realized, “Wait a minute. Why do such bad things happen?”

As I looked at the psalm a little bit further I was thinking, “If he is a shield, why does he let bad things happen to me?” and I suddenly realized the bad things are part of his shielding. They’re part of his shielding. It’s the way in which he is protecting me from a lot of things I wouldn’t be protected from, I wouldn’t be shielded from, unless he did it. As I did that, the truth began to shine. That’s how God lets his presence known. My worries started to melt away.

That’s the reason why there has been never, ever, ever a better description of what it means to have communion with God (let me close with this) than the wonderful hymn by William Cowper that sometimes we sing. It goes like this. He says:

Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings

It is the Lord, who rises with healing in his wings:

When comforts are declining, he grants the soul again

A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue

The theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.

That’s it! In holy contemplation we sweetly pursue the theme of God’s salvation. How does God let himself be known? It becomes new. It breaks in again, you see. A light surprises. The inner spot is touched. I feel it melt away. That’s fellowship with God. That’s how he speaks to you as you speak to him. Do you know this? Do you have it in your life?

Everything Jesus has ever done in the history of this world has all been aimed, has all been for the end and purpose that you can sit down tomorrow and have a season of clear shining and have a light surprising and have the theme of God’s salvation become new so you’re able to grasp the height and the width and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ and have the eyes of your heart enlightened. So there may be all sorts of reasons why it’s not happening, but they’re not on God’s side. Don’t stop until you have this. Let’s pray.

Thank you, Father, for giving us what we know we need: life itself. This is life: to know you. This is the fellowship we all want. Grant it, Father, that we can have it through your Son. In his name we pray, amen.

The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive Goodness, Faithfulness


Fruit of the Spirit—March 25, 1990

1 John 1:5–2:8

Let’s take a look at 1 John 1:5, through 2:8, and let’s continue with our series on the fruit of the Spirit. Let me read, beginning with 1 John 1:5.

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 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, purifies us from all sin.

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

Then starting with the first verse of 1 John 2 …

1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.

This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. 7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

Let’s end the reading of God’s Word right there

Truth. “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” We’re going to do something pretty ambitious. We’re going to take a look at two of the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit are listed in Galatians 5:22 and following. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and then we get on to meekness and self-control.

We’re going to look at goodness and faithfulness together. The main reason is because goodness and faithfulness are awfully interrelated. They really both have to do with integrity. They both have to do with living honestly, living by the truth. I put up here at the top (and I’m going to try to follow this pretty closely here), “Goodness and faithfulness are two spiritual fruit which are related, because they both have to do with leading a truth-centered life.”

The word integrity (when we were preaching through the Ten Commandments earlier in the year we spent some time on this) is related to the English word integer. An integer is a whole number as opposed to a fraction. A person of integrity is someone whose life is unified by the truth and who is not two-faced. You’re not living in a fractured way.

I remember watching one of the Hill Street Blues episodes. I loved Hill Street Blues. I hated it when it went off, and I haven’t liked any of the other Steven Bochco productions. I like St. Elsewhere. I haven’t liked L.A. Law that much because it just gets more and more upscale. I like the dirt under the fingernails.

In Hill Street Blues, the hero is Frank Furillo and he’s married to Veronica Hamel’s character, Joyce. They’re in a cocktail lounge and they’re supposedly off and having a good time, just Frank and Joyce. Frank is a police captain, and at one point somebody comes up to him and tries to offer him some drugs. So here’s Frank. Obviously the guy doesn’t know Frank is a police captain and he’s off duty.

He looks, he thinks, he turns around and pulls out the cuffs, and he says, “Okay, we’re going downtown.” At this point Joyce looks at him and says, “You don’t know how to keep your professional life and your private life apart. We’re out here enjoying ourselves and you can never get away from business.” Frank looks and he realizes, “Yeah, yeah. I’m just a driven man.” Now why would this be a modern issue?

Is it right to go after drug dealers when you’re on the job but when you’re off you’re not supposed to do that? Frank Furillo has a typical problem, and Joyce has the same problem. In the old days, we believed that all truth met at the top and that if you believed in truth it was true not only for your public life but for your private life. Your life hung together. It hung together because the same truth governed every area of your life.

Today we live in a fragmented world in which in one area you have one set of values, and in another area you have another set of values. For example, modern culture tells you if you’re a Christian, if you’re one of these born-again types, wonderful. That’s okay for your private life, but do not try to get that out into your public life. Do not try, they say, to legislate morality. Don’t try to get your morality out in your public life where you’re imposing it on everybody else.

On the other hand, they don’t see when they say that that they’re doing it to you. When they say religion is relative; it’s for your private life, and don’t bring it out into your public life, don’t impose it on other people, they are imposing their view of religion on you. They’re saying that religion is relative; it’s only for the private life, and you can’t use it in the public arena, you can’t impose your religion on people, and they’re imposing their view of religion on you. It’s called relativism.

The problem is the modern way of thinking has no integrity to it, because modern man doesn’t believe in truth that fits into every area of life. Therefore, Frank Furillo can’t have a life of integrity. Now what we’re going to do as we move through the passage and talk about what it means to have a life of integrity, a truth-centered life, a life based on the truth, we’re going to get into some heavy stuff. Hopefully we’ll also get into some very practical stuff.

I was looking at my handout. The trouble with a handout is now that I wrote it down and gave it to you I have to pretty much follow it. Some of you say, “Since when?” At least you have to deal with the issues that are raised. Let me just remind you here again. Goodness and faithfulness are two fruit of the Spirit, and they’re very close together.

Goodness has to do with consistency and sincerity. Goodness has to do with sincerity. A sincere person’s heart is like a clear lake that you can see all the way to the bottom on. What you see is what you get. A sincere person. Whereas faithfulness has to do with dependability, follow-through, responsibility, someone who keeps promises.

Consistency and dependability are really two aspects … Aren’t they awfully closely related? They’re two aspects of honesty and integrity, and that’s the reason why we’re going to consider them together and I’m going to run back and forth between the two. I’m not going to spend the rest of the time tonight making a lot of distinctions between goodness and faithfulness. They’re very closely related. They both have to do with a life of honesty and integrity.

So let’s first of all take a look and see what the Bible teaches about truth, and then what the Bible teaches about getting the truth into your life, becoming a person of goodness and faithfulness. Verse 5 of the passage says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” That is a very profound verse, out of which we can draw many things.

A teacher of theology named John Murray wrote this … It’s a profound thing and I know when we first read it you’re going to say, “Boy, that’s heavy and I have to chew on that.” Let’s chew on that. John Murray is talking about what John means when he talks about truth. “We should bear in mind that ‘the true’ in the usage of John is not so much the true in contrast with the false [though it is], or the real in contrast with the fictitious [though it is]. It is the absolute as contrasted with the relative, the ultimate as contrasted with the derived … the substantial in contrast with the shadowy.”

“God is ‘the truth’, truth absolute, ultimate, eternal, in contradistinction from all that is relative, derived, partial, and temporal.” Now be patient. Keep following here. “When we speak, therefore, of the sanctity of truth, we must recognize that what underlies this concept is the sanctity of the being of God as the living and true God.… This is why all untruth or falsehood is wrong; it is a contradiction of that which God is. And this is why God cannot lie. To lie would contradict himself and he cannot deny himself. It is his perfection to be consistent with himself … This attribute of God is often expressed as his ‘faithfulness’ and is exemplified in the certainty and immutability of his promises …”

Now that’s deep theology, but it’s also extremely important. What he is saying is this idea of honesty God gives us is not busywork, the way my algebra teacher used to give me busywork to keep me off the street. She would make things up. “Well I don’t know,” she would say. “What should we do tomorrow? Well, do five problems on page 7 and eight problems on page 9,” and we hated her for it.

God doesn’t give us busywork. When he says, “Be honest,” he doesn’t say, “Because I want to keep you busy. I have a right to boss you around and tell you what to do.” No. When he says, “Be honest,” he means, “Be like me.” The idea of honesty arises from one of his perfections: that he’s absolutely consistent with himself. He cannot be other than what he is. He cannot contradict himself. He cannot say one thing one place and then contradict himself another place.

The Bible says he is simple, not convoluted. He does not have parts to him. Rather, whatever he says today is also true tomorrow. Whatever he says in one context is also true in another context. The whole idea of truth and honesty is absolute consistency. That’s the reason why John Murray is pointing out the idea that God is light and in him is no darkness at all is the basis for understanding of truth. So keep this in mind.

What does it mean to be honest? It means to be absolutely consistent. Now God is consistent with himself. What does that mean for us? We’re going to see. It means to be consistent with reality and it means to be consistent with what you said in the past and it means to be consistent from place to place and with person to person and in public and private. That’s what integrity means. That’s what truth is. That’s what goodness and faithfulness is.

First John 1:10: “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar …” The problem with the human heart is not just that we are dishonest; our dishonesty comes from, is rooted in, the accusation that God is a liar. Real dishonesty in our lives starts when we distrust God. Adam and Eve were pretty happy people. They lived in perfect relationship with God. Along comes the Serpent, Satan, and the first temptation has to do with truth.

The Serpent comes up and says, “Hey, how’s tricks here?” Eve and Adam say, “Well, this is good and that’s good and this is good, and we’re not supposed to eat of this fruit, and God knows what he’s doing.” The Serpent says, “Has God said you must not eat of that? Do you know why? He knows that if you eat of that your eyes will be opened and you will be like him. He’s trying to keep you down,” Satan says. “He’s trying to fool you. He’s trying to deceive you.”

What Satan did was insinuate against God’s veracity, against God’s truthfulness. The first temptation and the first sin was not eating the apple. The first sin was to believe God was a liar. Man’s dishonesty starts the minute you mistrust God’s honesty. You become a liar the second you believe God is a liar, and you will never tell a lie again if you believe God.

The first temptation was to doubt God’s veracity. Satan accuses God of deception, deliberate falsehood. The first sin directly results from their belief that God is a liar. Since then, the sin of doubting God’s Word, or his truth, is basic to all other sins. Distrust in the integrity of God immediately destroys the integrity of man. Think about it. This is worth chewing on. This is the sort of thing you can chew on and think about a long time. Every sin, including our own dishonesty, comes from doubting God’s faithfulness and his promises. Every sin arises from believing lies instead of the truth.

This is the point at which I could probably spend at least an hour elaborating, and I’d better not. Bear with me for a bit. Do you remember (some of you do; some of you don’t), in the fall we spent some time talking about the idols of the heart? It’s my conviction that the Bible teaches us that the root need of every human being is to worship something. Since all of us are born in sin, that means all of us are born wanting to worship something besides God.

As you grow up, your parents, the way they teach you or the way they treat you, your friends, your culture, they give you all kinds of bulletins, and eventually at some deep level we all come to believe something besides God will satisfy us. That is the big lie in our lives. Every human being has a “Big Lie” operating at the bottom, underneath everything else, that drives you.

We talked about this in the fall and I can’t go into it in great detail, but it roughly goes like this. Why is it that some of us are so incredibly scared that people will reject us? Why are we so destroyed when we find that people don’t like us? It’s because there’s a Big Lie operating down underneath that says that if people love you, if everybody thinks you’re terrific, then and only then will you have a worthwhile life; then you’ve made it.

Why are some other people driven by the need for money and success? It’s because there’s a Big Lie operating in them. The Big Lie is, unless you make a lot of money and get ahead in your career you’re nothing, you’re dirt. There’s a lie down there operating. You’re worshiping the success, or you’re worshiping people’s approval, or you’re worshiping pleasure. You’re worshiping something, and the worship takes the form of a lie, and it expresses itself in your psyche and controls you that way. If you take a look at every one of your problems, you’ll see at the root it’s because you’re believing a lie instead of the truth.

Some of us get depressed. Why do we get depressed? We’re feeling sorry for ourselves. That’s a lie. When you feel sorry for yourself, this is what’s going on: There’s a little record going on down deep underneath and you’re saying, “What did I ever do to deserve this? What did I ever do to deserve this?” Sometimes you say it out loud, but most of the time it just goes on underneath. Right? If you’re a Christian you know that’s a lie, because the answer is you’ve done everything to deserve this. That’s the biblical answer. You’ve done everything to deserve far worse than this.

What if God began to give you what you deserve? Then what would happen? R.C. Sproul, one of my teachers, used to say, “Never ask God for justice; he might give it to you.” If you demanded, “I want justice at midnight tonight,” there wouldn’t be anybody on earth at 12:01. Well, what are we doing when we talk about that? We’re laughing at ourselves, because yes, we know we don’t operate on the basis of that, do we?

Instead of saying, “I’m alive today by the grace and mercy of God. Everything that comes into my life today that’s better than hell is his mercy,” instead we get up and say, “I deserve better than this.” What you’re doing is you’re being controlled … You don’t believe God. You’re not believing God. It’s one thing to believe in God; it’s another thing to believe God. It’s much harder.

Abraham believed in God, but it also tells us in Romans 4 he believed God so he staggered not at the promise. He didn’t stagger at what God said. He didn’t say, “That’s too good to be true.” He said, “It must be true.” God said, “I’m going to bring this into your life,” and instead of Abraham saying, “I don’t believe that,” he said, “Okay, I’m going to act on the basis of that.” So he began to act on the basis of the truth. When you act on the basis of the truth you don’t feel sorry for yourself anymore.

Another one that’s really fun to talk about, which we often do here, is worry. When you’re worried, there’s a little record going on down there that says, “If I was in charge of the universe I would be doing a better job than the One who’s in charge of the universe now. If I was in charge I would have the schedule worked out differently. I wouldn’t be having this happen and this happen.” You’re saying, “Lord, if I was in charge of the universe, I would do a better job than you right now. I’m worried that you’re not going to get it right.” That’s what’s happening.

You say, “I’m consumed by worry.” No, you’re controlled by a lie. Now let’s be real about this. Let’s be very realistic about this. The lies are so deep-seated, that this side of heaven we’re never going to root them all the way out. But to the degree you root them out you become a person who can obey God and live a life of glory and honesty and courage. At the root of all of our problems is a disbelief of God. We believe God is a liar, and every single day we treat him as if he’s a liar. All of our sins come from that root.

I don’t know if I have time for this, but I’ll just briefly mention it. One of the best books in my life has been … When I do this you’re going to say, “Oh, where do I get it?” This is not an easy book to read, especially if you’re not used to reading King James English. It’s a book written by Thomas Brooks in 1652. It’s one of the best counseling manuals ever written. It’s called Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. It’s far better than anything written about Satan in the last 200 years. Honest.

One of the things he does is he shows something we generally do not recognize when it comes to Satan, and that is, since our sins are based on lies, Satan essentially is a liar. The Bible says Satan is a liar from the beginning, and yet whenever we say, “This person is under the control of Satan,” we almost never begin to realize that the way in which Satan might be controlling this person is through mental lies. We have a tendency to command and to yell and to scream instead of teaching.

What he does is he goes through and he shows all the different ways in which your life can be absolutely demolished by a lie that Satan not only injects but keeps stirring up. As an example, he says one of Satan’s devices is he keeps people in a sad, doubting, questioning condition to make their life a hell by causing them to be thinking and musing more on their sin than upon their Savior. He says this is one major problem. People are often cast down. Their life is a hell. They go around constantly in doubts and in guilt and in depression, because they see their sin more vividly than they see their Savior.

So he says, “What do you do about that?” He says the first remedy for weak believers who are feeling like this … Let me just read this. It’s King James English, but listen. The first remedy is to consider, to think, “that though Jesus Christ has not freed them from the presence of sin, yet he has freed them from the damnatory power of sin. It is most true that sin and grace were never born together, neither shall sin and grace die together; yet while a believer breathes in this world, they must live together, they must keep house together. Christ in this life will not free any believer from the presence of any one sin, though he does free every believer from the damning power of every sin.”

For it says in Romans 8, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The law cannot condemn you. It’s there, the sin is present, but the sin cannot condemn you. It cannot push you away from God. It says, “The law cannot condemn a believer, for Christ has fulfilled it for him; divine justice cannot condemn him, for that Christ has satisfied; his sins cannot condemn him, for they in the blood of Christ are pardoned; and his own conscience, upon righteous grounds, cannot condemn him, because Christ, that is greater than his conscience, has acquitted [pardoned] him.”

Now what is Brooks saying? He’s saying you have to argue the truth down into the center of your being. The reason you’re full of guilt, the reason you’re cast down, is because you’re believing a lie. In fact, another one of the remedies … He has about seven remedies for that. Some of you are saying, “Gimme, gimme.” Here’s the most interesting one. The sixth remedy against this device of Satan is solemnly to consider (again, think) that believers must repent for their being discouraged by their sins.

What he’s saying is the real sin you need to repent of is your discouragement because of your sin. He says as soon as you repent for the discouragement of your sins, as soon as you repent for the fact that you’re not looking at your Savior and not rejoicing in what he has done for you … You’re looking at your own sins more than you’re looking at your Savior. He says if you repent of that sin you’ll get freedom.

He says their being discouraged by their sins will cost them many a prayer, many a tear, many a groan, and that because their discouragements under sin flow from ignorance and unbelief, it springs from their ignorance of the richness, the freeness, the fullness, the everlastingness of God’s love, and from their ignorance of the power, glory, sufficiency, and efficacy of the death and sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What he’s saying is repent of that. When you look at your sins and say, “Oh, I’m just too bad and too awful for God to do anything with me,” he says the real sin that’s getting you in trouble … You need to repent of being discouraged about your sins, of thinking so little of the power and the efficacy and the everlastingness of God’s love that you really think this little sin of yours can somehow overwhelm his purposes for you. And his purpose for you is glory and love in his bosom.

So what is Brooks doing? All the way through here he says essentially every one of our problems comes from believing lies, and that means believing that God is a liar; not believing something he says in his Word. All of our problems come from believing God is a liar, and every day we are acting as if he is. A life of integrity begins when we stop treating him as a liar. It was the first temptation and we haven’t gotten over it yet.

Now one other thing I should say. It’s also true the dynamic works at the intellectual level. I said at the personal level, the heart level, to doubt God’s truth is the cause of all our problems. It’s also true at the intellectual level. I’ll only say this in passing, but it’s important. If you do not believe in the Bible, if you don’t believe that God has spoken in the Bible and that it is his revelation, if you don’t believe the truth of the Bible, there’s no way to know any truth at all.

If you doubt God’s integrity, it destroys your integrity. That’s the personal level. At the intellectual level, if you doubt God has given absolute truth, then you lose the ability to have any truth at all. Let me give you two examples. One, I remember back in 1970 right in the middle of the Cambodian invasion, at my college campus just about all of the students got up and said, “Enough is enough. This is terrible.” So they shut down all of the classes, boycotted the classes, and it was called a strike.

It was an interesting time where everybody was sitting around saying, “What are we doing as America and what is truth and where are we going and how are we going to change the world?” It’s amazing. Thousands of college students sitting around talking about this all the time. You could walk up to people and say, “What is the meaning of life?” and they’d say, “Well let’s have a group and talk about it.” Everybody wanted to. They didn’t say, “Well what I want to know is how I’m going to get a decent job.” Nobody said that. It was two years later before people said that. It was a strange period of time in the history of the college campus.

Right at that time we had a man come, a Christian who was a musician and also an evangelist. His name was John Guest. John Guest came and put himself up in the middle of the Bison. The Bison was like the Greenwich Village of our college campus. It was the radical center, and everybody sat around and talked about “What are we going to do about the Cambodian invasion?”

John Guest (I forget how he got permission) put himself up in the middle and sang some songs. He was very good. Then at one point he turned around to everybody and said, “I’m a Christian now. I believe the Bible now. If I were to tell you you people should stop sleeping around with each other, what would you say?” And he just waited. Now that’s guts. The people started saying, “I would say to you, ‘Don’t tell me what’s right and wrong. I know what’s right and wrong. This is a matter of my own personal choice, my own authentic freedom I have to exercise here.’ ” Everybody read Camus and Sartre then. Somebody said that from the floor.

Then John looked at them very coolly and said, “Okay, how dare you tell people the Vietnam War is immoral? Don’t you realize that if all truth is a matter of personal authentic choice, if there is no God who has spoken objectively, then all such pronouncements about this being moral and that being immoral are subjective? You have no right to tell anybody that they can’t go over there and burn babies. Maybe that’s their thing.” Nobody said anything. That’s back when people used to say, “Do your own thing.” Just to show you how ancient I am.

He looked at them and he said, “Maybe that’s their thing. How can you call them immoral? You can say, ‘Stop it, because I personally find it offensive, and I will personally come and take your bazookas away and kill you,’ but you can’t say, ‘This is immoral.’ ” What he was saying was when you destroy the possibility of absolute truth, you destroy the possibility of any truth. When you say, “God has not spoken,” then the fact is we are down to a place where everybody’s opinion is all we have.

That’s why we say here if you don’t believe there’s a God’s truth, we can’t know truth at all. Everything is subjectivism and we can know nothing for certain. That has happened, by the way, but people are absolutely inconsistent, because on the one hand they’ll say, “There’s no absolute truth,” and then as soon as you say, “I think there is,” they’ll say, “You’re wrong.”

Of course what they’re doing is they are saying, “I’m absolutely sure there’s no absolute truth,” and they’re laying one down. They’re caught in all the contradictions. The same person is the one who says, “You may not impose your religion on people in the workplace,” but they’re doing it to you the minute they speak, because their life is in fragments. Unless you believe in God’s truth there’s no coherence anymore. There’s nothing but contradiction.

Now let’s be practical for the last couple of minutes we have here. When it comes to really being people of integrity, let’s break it down and take a look at it. First John 1:6: “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” If we say one thing and do another … Remember we said what gives us a definition of truth is God’s nature, and God’s nature is to be consistent with himself. Goodness is being sincere and genuine, the same in public as in private.

In Psalm 15, the psalmist says, “Who will dwell in your presence? He who speaks truth from the heart.” He who is not only one way on the outside and another way on the inside, but somebody who is on the outside from the inside. Let’s take a look at this. William Gurnall, who was another Puritan, said sincerity is marked by newness, plainness, and sameness. If you’re a sincere person, that means you’re not a hypocrite. He says if you’re a sincere person, a person of integrity, then you are marked by newness, plainness, and sameness. What does he mean? It’s great.

First of all, newness. The one way you can tell you’re not a hypocrite is that you know you used to be and you still struggle with the possibility of being one. Real hypocrites have no idea that they are. Real hypocrites will say they never have been and they aren’t now. That’s how you know a hypocrite. That’s what the Bible says. C.S. Lewis says if you think you’re not conceited, you’re very conceited indeed. That’s the way you know you’re conceited.

In the same way, the way you know you’re not a hypocrite is that you know you used to be one and you still see lots of hypocrisy. That’s the reason William Gurnall said the way you can tell you are developing integrity is you know that integrity is a new thing for you. The only way to know you have any integrity at all is you recognize it’s new.

When somebody says, “What do you mean I’m a hypocrite? I’m not a hypocrite,” immediately you know that person has no newness about them. The integrity is not a new thing for them. There has never been an “Aha!” about their life. You cannot move out of hypocrisy and dishonesty into integrity and honesty unless you can see the hypocrisy in your life, and you struggle constantly with hypocrisy.

Secondly, plainness. The old Puritans used to talk about to be plain means to be open. A person of integrity is a person who is open with themselves and with God and with man. Openness with God means you’re willing to say, “I’m a sinner.” Openness with man means you’re willing to take criticism.

I must confess this, and I hope nobody gets irked at this. Over the years when I have counseled people, I have noticed that 99 percent of the time, if I’m counseling women, the women will say, “Hmm, I never thought of that. That’s pretty interesting. Maybe I’ll make that change.” When I counsel the men they say, “That’s ridiculous. That’s silly. I don’t like it.” Then they go off and they make the change.

In other words, the women will tell me if they’re making a change; the men will insist that they won’t and then they’ll go off and do it when it looks like nobody sees them, when it looks like it’s their idea, when they can get themselves to agree it’s their idea. What that means is there’s a lack of integrity there. Integrity means there’s an openness in letting people come and say, “Something is wrong with you.” A person of integrity is willing to say, “Maybe there is.”

It doesn’t mean you have to immediately let somebody walk all over you. It means to say, “Yes, maybe there is. I’ll take a look at that. I really am glad you told me that.” That’s openness. But really, the real sincerity and real integrity comes from being open with yourself, being honest with yourself, looking inside and getting “truth in the inward parts,” the psalmist says. Truth in the inward parts.

It’s a frightening thing to me to see how many people with great knowledge of the Bible are still guilty of so many of the things that anybody, even non-Christians, certainly can see. Here you have knowledgeable Bible Christians, people who know the Bible real well, and yet they can’t keep their mouth shut. They can’t keep a promise. You tell them a secret and the next thing you know it’s all over the place.

There are other Christians who are incredibly vain about not only how they look but who they’re seen with. There are other Christians who are so abrasive that they cannot give you a criticism without upsetting everybody. There are other Christians who are so incredibly sensitive and get their feelings hurt all the time that after a while you just don’t want to come and tell them anything that’s wrong.

What are these things? These are character blemishes. “Oh well,” you say, “I see that in all kinds of people all around.” But if you are a person of integrity you are willing to let the truth of God’s Word search you and you’re willing to get truth in the inward parts. You’re willing to actually say, “I want the Lord God to search me and show me my hidden faults. I really want to see them.” Are you a person of integrity?

The reason we say you have to be open with yourself and open with God and open with man is because they all happen together. You can’t be open with one without the other. They all have to happen together. The way you can tell you’re being open with yourself is that when somebody comes up to you and corrects you, you don’t immediately get your back up. You can say all you want to about how you’re open with God, but if you’re not really able to work through, in ruthless self-examination, your own life and your own sins then you’re not open with God either. So that’s what we mean.

Finally, sameness. Now what he means by that is a person of integrity is somebody who is the same in every area of life, in every arena of life. By the same in every area of life we mean that some people are really pretty godly in one area, but in another area they’re terrible. Some people, for example, are one way in public and in private another way, or vice versa.

There are some people who in their private life are very, very moral and very religious, but in their public life they’re as ruthless and cutthroat as anybody else in their business. They’re as impure as anybody else. That’s wrong. That’s a lack of integrity. Or sometimes it’s vice versa. They’re paragons of virtue out in public, but in the family and in the home people know how angry they get, how abusive they get, how cold they get. That’s a lack of integrity.

When I talk about different life areas … One of the things that intrigues me is the old liberal/conservative problem. Liberal politics says you should be able to do whatever you want with your body but not whatever you want with your money. In other words, my personal life, who and how many different kinds of variations of sexuality I want to deal with, whether or not … You know, all these things. This is my personal arena. But in the area of taking care of the poor, we ought to legislate economic justice.

Conservatives are the other way around. Conservatives try to say we need to have legislation that supports the family and we need to have legislation that supports traditional values, but when it comes to giving money to the poor, that should be totally voluntary. You see, conservatives want to say, “Legislate personal morality but not social morality,” and liberals want to say, “Legislate social morality not personal morality.” A Christian sees that all of those things are under God. By the way, as far as where the government goes, let’s not get into that.

The fact is, a Christian says, “There’s a lack of integrity there. You shouldn’t be moral in one area and not another. You should not be different with one crowd than another.” Some of you are very different with another kind of crowd than you are with this kind of crowd. The illustration I like to use … Not so much here, but down in Virginia where I used to work we had managers and labor people in the same church, and it was a real union town.

So you’d walk into one room and everybody was sitting around saying, “Do you know what has really made this country great? Labor unions. Labor unions are what made us a great country, what have given us a middle class. Don’t you think, Pastor?” I’d say, “Well yeah, absolutely.” I walk into another person’s home and everybody is sitting around saying, “Do you know what has really ruined this country? Do you know what’s just tearing us down and driving us into the ground and ruining our economy? Labor unions. Don’t you think they have killed us? Don’t you think, Pastor?” So I’m sitting there saying, “Oh yeah, I see what you say.”

There’s a lack of integrity there. To be a person of integrity means that you’re not different in different arenas, not different in different places, not different in different crowds. You don’t say one thing and do another. You don’t mean one thing and do another. You’re not different with one crowd than another crowd. You’re not different in one area than another area. You’re a person of integrity because you have truth in the inward parts. Newness, plainness, and sameness.

One last thing here. How do you cultivate truth? First John 2:8: “… its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” The way you cultivate goodness and truth … I’ve just put down three or four things. First of all, honesty with yourself. The best way to develop a lifestyle of truth is to have a lifestyle of repentance. Martin Luther said all of life is repentance. That was the first of the 95 theses he nailed to the Wittenberg door to start the Protestant Reformation. All of life is repentance.

If you think you’ve gotten beyond repentance so now you just have victory in Christ, or you have some model of the Christian life that gets you beyond daily repentance, you’ll never be a person of sincerity or integrity or dependability. Never. Why? Because you can never get beyond repentance because repentance is what brings you joy. Repentance is what cleans you out. Repentance is what gets at the lies that are controlling you.

Secondly, remember that God is all-knowing, sovereign, and gracious. We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense. The reason you can be honest is because you shouldn’t have anything to hide. God has seen you. He knows everything about you. There are all kinds of things in your heart that have not popped out yet. Most of you have years and years to go.

There are going to be all kinds of selfish actions, cowardly actions, impure actions that are still in your heart that you don’t even know are there. They’re going to pop out later. They’re going to pop out next year, they’re going to pop out 10 years from now, and when you see them you’re going to be horrified. But God sees them now, and God loves you, because we have an advocate with the Father, one who speaks for us in our defense. God accepts you through Jesus. There is nothing to hide.

You can’t hide anyway. It says in Hebrews, “All things are open and naked to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” What a great statement. “With him whom we have to do.” If you’re not hiding in Christ then you’re going to have to be hiding everything else, but if you’re hiding in Christ, you don’t have to hide anything else.

If you know that because you’re in Jesus Christ God sees everything about you, even the worst, and loves you completely, then there’s nothing you have to hide. Who cares what anybody else thinks? The only verdict that counts is his, and his verdict is, “This is my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.” Stop your hiding. Root out the Big Lies in your life and live a life of goodness and faithfulness. Let’s pray.


The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive Knowing We Know; Three Tests


Knowing that We Know God; 1 John, Part 1—October 2, 1994

1 John 1:5–7

The first of John’s three letters that are in the New Testament is a wonderful and profound piece of literature. It’s five chapters in the New Testament. We are going through it consecutively. We’re going to be looking at verses 5, 6, and 7. So in the month of September, we were looking at the first four verses. Now we come to the next passage, the next section: verses 5, 6, and 7. Let me read them to you, and then we’ll begin to consider them together.

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 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, purifies us from all sin.

This is God’s Word

On the one hand, if this is the only time you’re here or the first time you’re here, I want to make sure what we talk about here tonight certainly stands on its own. On the other hand, we’re in a kind of bridge place in this passage. We’re moving from one section in which the discussion is fellowship with God. It’s possible for us to have fellowship with God. Now we’re moving into a new section in which John is going to begin to show us, give us, three obstacles, three ways in which fellowship with God is blocked.

Now we were talking last week that fellowship with God is not just believing in God. It’s sharing in God. In verse 4, John says he has full joy and that full joy comes because he has fellowship with God. His joy will only be fulfilled when we also (the people he is writing to) have that same fellowship with God he does. We said this word fellowship is the word koinōnia. The word koinōnia means something is common. Koinōnia means we share something in common with God.

So this is going way beyond just believing in God. This is going way beyond just practicing God’s law. This is actually sharing in God, fellowship with God. Now we talked about that last week in some detail. This week we see John begins to show us though we may claim to have fellowship with God (see verse 6), yet … Now what’s the yet for? What’s the but for? You say you’re a Christian. You claim to have fellowship with God, but … The reason the but is there is because John is showing us (and will show us) there are reasons why Christians do not enjoy that fellowship with God the way they ought to.

Last week, a number of people afterwards talked to me about the effect of the message, the effect of the truth that we can have fellowship with God. It was natural for people to say, “If this is really Christianity, I don’t know that I’m a Christian.” Now what I want to do here tonight is try to show you … Well, maybe I need to be more specific so I don’t make everybody walk out of here feeling like they’re not Christians. That would be a good idea.

I think what they were saying was, “If this is possible, if Jesus died, if all of Jesus’ work was so we would know God, not just know about him, have fellowship with God, not just believe in him in a general way, why is it I don’t experience more of that? Why is it Christians don’t experience more of that? Why isn’t our joy full? Why don’t we have this incredible kind of fellowship?”

The answer is there are certain things that block it. There are certain things that get in the way. Common obstacles. Therefore, if you want to test your own fellowship and the quality of your fellowship, even the reality of your fellowship with God, you need to make sure things are going right in these three areas. So actually what we have here is, I guess, a bridge, because on the one hand, he is saying, we have fellowship with God. Verse 6 says a Christian is someone who claims to have fellowship with God.

So I guess by way of negation you can say one of the reasons why we don’t enjoy fellowship with God is because we don’t even understand what’s available. Then once you do understand what’s available, there are three reasons John mentions here that people are constantly running into problems. You might say the fellowship with God is blocked. It’s strangled. There’s a constriction, you see. You’re having an esophageal spasm, in a sense, that you can’t get the food from up here down to there. The fellowship from God is not flowing into your life because of these three obstacles.

So what I want to do is I want to first of all say the first reason we don’t have fellowship with God is because we don’t understand what’s available yet. Then once you understand what’s available, we don’t have fellowship with God because of three obstacles: conscience obstacles, relational obstacles, and doctrinal obstacles. Now in a way we’re going to be introducing tonight what we’re going to do for the rest of the year, because that’s what John is doing in these verses. He is introducing what he is going to talk about in depth through the rest of the year. Let me give you a survey. Let me give you a helicopter ride.

First of all, if we claim to have fellowship with God … Do you claim it? There are a lot of people who don’t even claim it because they don’t know what’s available. What specifically is fellowship with God? Now we talked a lot about it last week, but I would like to talk about it in more detail now and get specific as we possibly can so you see what’s available. I also don’t want anybody walking out of here doubting the fact they might even be a Christian, though maybe some of you should.

You know, one of the hardest things for a minister to do is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. One of the worst things you can do is comfort the comfortable and disturb the disturbed. See, therefore, if you’re comfortable, you need to be disturbed. If you’re disturbed, you need to be comforted. I want to get you. Here’s the best way to do it. Friends, if you’re a real Christian, God will let you know his presence. He will give you manifestations of his reality. God will be more than just a name. He will be more than just an idea, sometime, to some degree.

Now again, it’s hard not to continually come back to the closest analogy we have to fellowship with God … marriage. You see, Thomas Goodwin put it this way. He said here are a husband and a wife walking down the street together. They’re married. Then all of a sudden, one of them takes the other in their arms. One turns around and says, “I love you,” and grabs and kisses them. At that moment, they’re not more married than they were five minutes ago. Their legal relationship hasn’t changed a bit, but their enjoyment of and their experience of that relationship has just gone through the roof. See?

That’s what fellowship with God is. Therefore, just as in marriage, fellowship is subject to degrees, right? There are plenty of times in your marriage in which you know you’re married legally and yet you really don’t react. You’re not maybe acting toward the other person with any kind of deep affection. There’s not much intimacy. There’s not much real meeting. Sometimes it’s just because you’re going through a very busy time of your life, and you, in a sense, really are roommates. You’re not really relating to your spouse a whole lot differently than you related to your college roommate (I hope).

So the point is if you are married, there will be times in which you don’t experience that. Your enjoyment of your relationship is subject to degrees, but there will be other times if you’re really married that you are in each other’s arms. There is unity, and there is a coming together. There’s a deep unity. If you’re a Christian, there have been times in which God has become that kind of reality to you. For some of us because of temperament, for some of us because of emotional makeup, it’s maybe not tremendously a deep and profound emotional experience.

For others who have a very different kind of emotional makeup, it seems to be profound. That doesn’t mean just because one of you gets more emotional and weeps when you pray and the other one doesn’t, therefore the weeping person has that experience, because it’s the same thing in marriage. You may be deeply touched and still not be as emotionally rattled and affected as another person because of the difference in emotional makeup and the difference in temperament. If you’re a Christian, there has been that manifestation.

Now what is the nature of that manifestation? What do I mean? To some degree or another, this is what it means. The way a person becomes intimate with God is when the truth begins to shine. I think there have been some other times over the last couple of years in which I pulled that theme out, and I said that’s the closest thing I can give you. Now where do I get that from? Jesus in John 16 says to the apostles, “The Spirit of holiness will come to you, and when the Spirit comes to you, he will take of mine and glorify me.”

Now here’s what that means. I’ve had plenty of people (and if you’ve been around the Christian church long enough, you will find these people too) who do claim they have this personal fellowship with God. They’ll come to you, and they will say (I’m not trying to be funny even though I know this will be funny), “God has spoken to me. I have fellowship with God, and God has told me you need to lend me $500.”

If you think I’m exaggerating, you know (if you’ve been around) I’m not. There are people who say, “That’s how God manifested himself to me. I was going to sleep or I was praying, and it just became so obvious God wanted me to go to you and get this money.” It gets even worse, of course. People will say, “God spoke to me. I really sensed his presence. He showed me we should be getting married.” That’s a good one.

Again, if you have never met anybody (a professing Christian) who made those kinds of claims, you just haven’t been around a long time. That’s not what Jesus is talking about in John 16 at all. Jesus says, “The work of the Holy Spirit is to come and manifest what I have told you.” See, he gave the apostles a lot of teaching, and he said, “You know, you’re not going to understand it all, but when the Spirit comes, he will take of mine. He’ll take my words, and he will glorify me. He will make my words vivid to you. He will make them coherent. They will catch fire in your heart. You will understand their meaning. You will see my glory.”

That is the work of the Holy Spirit on a heart, not to give you new words but to take Jesus’ words and make them new. To take what Jesus Christ has taught, to take the Word of God, turn on the switch, illuminate it, and not just the Word of God in general but the Word of God as it … What is the Word of the Lord? The Word of the Lord shows us the Lord of the Word. Every part of the Bible is about Jesus. The history is about Jesus. The law is about Jesus. Every part of the Bible is about the Lord Jesus.

Therefore, what the Holy Spirit does is he comes to you and gives you a glorification of Jesus. He doesn’t glorify you. He glorifies Jesus. He doesn’t give you new words. He turns the words on that you already have. He makes them shine. In other words, stop thinking you need some incredible infusion of a kind of naked and abstract power if right now you are really struggling emotionally with something. Somebody has mistreated you, and you can’t forgive. You’re trying, and you can’t.

Now what do you need? Oh, how easy it is to say, “Oh, I don’t know. I know I’m supposed to forgive. I know it’s bad. I know it’s hurting me. I know I’m getting an ulcer over this. I know it’s destroying me. I need to forgive, but O Lord help me.” That’s asking almost for magic. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cry out like that. I’m saying if you just say, “O Lord, help me,” sometimes that means, “Lord, zap me. Make it go away. Make it vanish.”

Do you believe what Jesus said: “I had mercy on you; therefore, if you see how I’ve forgiven you in spite of what you’ve done to me, you will be able to forgive others in spite of what they’ve done to you”? Or I’ll put it this way. If you can’t stop looking at your wounds and what people have done to you, it’s because you’re not looking at his wounds and what he suffered for you. If you are able to find his wounds more glorious, more vivid, if you’re able to find those wounds more real, then you would be able to say, “Hey, what happened to me isn’t a problem.” You would get immediate freedom.

The reason you don’t have the freedom, the reason you can’t overcome the resentment right now, you don’t just need some kind of abstract visitation from God; you need fellowship with him. You need the Holy Spirit to come and make the truth shine. You need the truths of God’s Word to get big, to get vivid, to just come on. As one writer put it, you’re having fellowship with God when the mind descends into the heart, when the truths of God’s Word … The Holy Spirit comes, and he glorifies them. He makes them glorious, and they begin to just thrill you or disturb you or comfort you, pick you up, set you down.

They’re alive. You feel them alive. You feel the words of God. You feel the Spirit of God coming on you in that way. Now in other words, that’s a very simple thing. If you’re struggling with resentment, if you’re struggling with depression, if you’re struggling with worry, keep in mind all these things have to be put in the context of the physiological. Sometimes you’re not getting enough sleep. You sit down and say, “O Lord, O Lord, please help me.” You’re only getting three hours of sleep at night. Go to bed.

You have to keep all these things in mind. You have to keep these things in context. You have to keep these things in the context of the fact that God made you soul and body, and he is going to redeem you soul and body. Your soul and your body are together. Having said all that, the main thing you need right now is to have the Spirit of God come and glorify Jesus in your eyes. When that happens, to some degree … Sometimes it’s kind of sweet. Sometimes it’s powerful. Sometimes it’s a little babbling brook. Sometimes it’s a tidal wave. That’s what fellowship with God is, and if you’re a real Christian, you know it sometimes. You have it sometimes.

Now you have a place like Ephesians. The last time we looked at this whole subject in detail was a year ago when we were looking at Ephesians. At the end of Ephesians 3, here is Paul saying, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Now what is he praying for? He has broken down what fellowship means. Do you see? He is praying for Christians, and he says, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power … being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp …” Were any of you here last year when we talked about this? Power to grasp. The word grasp is a wonderful word. It’s the word katalambanō, which means to surround. It means to capture.

This word grasp is a military word. It means to surround a fortress and knock down its walls and to take it over. Paul says, “I’m praying the Spirit will come and do …” What in your heart? Give you power. It takes power to do this, to grasp what? How long and how wide and how high and how deep is the love of Christ? Have power to grasp. It means the love of Christ isn’t just something you know about.

This is the reason you’re struggling with your bitterness. This is the reason you’re struggling with your boredom. This is the reason you’re struggling with worry today. Do you know why? Because you know intellectually God loves you, but you haven’t grasped. It hasn’t taken you over. It hasn’t knocked you flat. It hasn’t captured you, see? That can happen when you sit down and say, “Lord, I want to have fellowship with you over your Word,” and you seek it. Sometimes it will be a babbling brook. Sometimes it will be a tidal wave, but it will be real.

Here’s an old British professor of philosophy named Steele. He was writing a friend of his because recently he had been experiencing such great fellowship with God. He puts it this way. He says, “Almost every week, and sometimes every day, the pressure of his great love comes down upon my heart in such measure as to make my brain throb and my whole being, soul and body, groan beneath the strain of the almost insupportable plethora of joy.”

“He has unlocked every apartment of my being, and filled and flooded them all with the light of his radiant presence. […] The spot before untouched has been reached, and all its flintiness has melted in the presence of that universal solvent, ‘Love divine, all loves excelling.’ ” Then he said Jesus had become the one altogether lovely to him. What’s he talking about? Is this just an emotional type person? He is a professor of philosophy. No, emotional people don’t become professors of philosophy.

Let me tell you what he is talking about. What he is simply saying is every week and almost every day now … This is not something that happens all the time. You don’t have control over it. There are not a bunch of buttons to push. This is the adventure. This is the romance of being a Christian. You’re on a voyage. You’re on an adventure. He says he sought fellowship, and recently he had been getting so much.

Is this how your Christian life goes? It doesn’t mean it happens all year like this. It may not even happen all decade like this, but there are times. He said almost every week and sometimes every day now he feels the pressure of a great love. What is he talking about? The inner spot is touched. He says, “He has unlocked every apartment of my being, and filled and flooded them all with the light of his radiant presence.” What is he talking about?

Inner spot. Power to grasp. The truth begins to shine. The mind descends into the heart. Things that were only intellectual begin to get connected. “I see how important they are. I sense their glory.” See, when Jesus says, “The Holy Spirit will come and glorify me” … Do you remember the word glory? We haven’t talked about this I guess in a while. The word glory means weight. When Jesus Christ says, “I know the Spirit’s work is to glorify me,” he is not talking just about he’ll just make you impressed in some general way. No.

You are always, always emotionally, volitionally, mentally affected by whatever seems most weighty to you. If you say, “Yes, I know Jesus Christ died for my sins, but I hate this person, and I won’t forgive them,” what that person has done to you has the glory in your life. It has the weight. What Jesus did is light, and what this person did is heavy. Fellowship with God glorifies God, makes him big in your eyes. The truths begin to shine, and the weight of your life, you might say the center of gravity of your life, shifts to what Jesus has done and who he is.

It happens. Not always, sometimes to a degree, sometimes like this. Remember I did mention this last week. This great, great, great hymn by William Cowper puts it perfectly, and I didn’t get a chance to just show you how perfectly. He says …

Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings

It is the Lord, who rises with healing in his wings:

When comforts are declining, he grants the soul again

A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

Notice he says sometimes the light surprises. One of the ways in which you know you’re having fellowship with God is you’re shocked. You might say, “Oh, you’re a minister. You’re always talking about the love of God. You’re talking about it all the time. You study it. You read about it. That should never surprise you that God loves you, should it?” When I’m having fellowship with God it does. It utterly surprises me. It’s like I’d never seen it before, and that’s how you always feel when you’re having fellowship with God.

Sometimes [not always] a light surprises the Christian while he sings.

It is the Lord, who rises with healing in his wings.

Then later he says:

In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue

The theme of God’s salvation and find it ever new.

That’s how you know. That’s how you know! You’re contemplating, and suddenly you say, “He does!” Do you remember Sally Field when she got the Oscar for Places in the Heart? Anyway, she won the Oscar, and she couldn’t believe it, remember? She went up, and as she got the Oscar, she looked around. Do you remember what she said? “You like me. You really like me!” Do you remember that? She was kind of crying.

Every time you have fellowship with God … In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue the theme of God’s salvation and find it ever new … you look at it, and you say, “You love me. You really love me! How could you?” It’s new. You say, “Well, how could it be new?” If you ask that, then you don’t have this. It’s not happening to you. Sometimes a light surprises.

Now you say, “Okay, what is it? How do you seek it?” That’s extremely important. William Cowper actually gives us the indication when he says, “In holy contemplation …” Now I could do this in two or three minutes, believe it or not. I was convinced about this when I read about two guys who lived over a thousand years apart. One man was an old British Puritan named John Owen, and one guy was a great father of the ancient church named Saint Augustine. They both wrote about how you can actually not just know about God and believe in God but how you can know God.

Both of them said there are three stages. Let me read to you something from John Owen. I’ve never read this to you, believe it or not. You say, “Gee, I thought every time you read John Owen it’s the same quote.” No, it’s not. John Owen put it this way. He is talking about the experience of God’s direct presence.

He says, “First comes the actual exercise of the mind, fixing thoughts and meditations upon spiritual truths. Next comes the inclination of all the affections toward these things, whereby they cleave to the spiritual truths and make an engagement unto them. Finally comes a relish and a savor in which lies the sweetness and the satisfaction of the spiritual life. We taste then by experience that God is gracious, and that the love of Christ is better than wine.

If we settle for mere speculations and mental notions about Christ as doctrine, we shall find no transforming power of efficacy communicated unto us thereby. But when, under the conduct of spiritual light, our affections do cleave unto him—then virtue (change in character) will proceed from him to purify us, increase our holiness, and sometimes fill us with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Now what’s he saying? There are three parts.

1. Study

Notice he says, “… the actual exercise of the mind …” You have to study the Word. You have to take a passage of Scripture, and you have to figure out what it says. You can’t jump over this in some kind of mystical or superstitious way. “O Lord, just fill me.” Jesus says, “He will take of mine. He will take of my words the things I told you.” So you have to find the things he told the apostles. See? That’s what the Bible is … the things he told the prophets and the apostles.

You take them out, and you think about them. You fix on them. What does this verse teach? What does it mean? You can’t jump over this. You need to learn how to study the Bible. You need to learn to figure out what these texts say. You need to learn principles of interpretation. Oh that sounds mundane to you. You say, “But when do I get to the good stuff?” You can’t skip it. It says first comes the actual exercise of the mind, fixing the mind on the truth.

2. Contemplate

“Next comes the inclination of all the affections toward these things …” Now this is called contemplation. Saint Augustine called it contemplateo. This is the key, because there is something between Bible study and prayer that is in the middle. It’s a cross between the two of them. Almost everybody I know for the first few years of their Christian lives misses the middle. They study the Bible, and they write down what the Bible said, and they do their study. Then they get out their prayer list, and they start to pray, “O Lord, I praise you for this and that. Now here’s my list of things.”

There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not much of a way to get fellowship because it’s in the middle. It’s in this middle. There is something in between. There is something that’s a merger, something that’s a cross between Bible study and prayer. It’s called meditation. Meditation is something modern people are told nothing about. In fact, we do everything we possibly can to avoid it.

There used to be books and books and books written about it. None of you probably have ever even read one. That’s my guess. You have to go find them. They’re very dusty. They’re very old. The pages are yellow. They fall apart in your hands, but there were a lot of them written. Basically what meditation is is you take the Word of God you just learned (the teaching), and you pray it in by looking for the connections, thinking about the connections, thinking about it.

Now five questions I like to use in order to do this are these. First of all, I go through and I say (here’s the text), “How can I praise him on the basis of this text? What does this text tell me that shows me God is great?” Then secondly, “How can I confess my sins on the basis of this text?” Okay? In other words, what does this show me that’s wrong with me? Then thirdly I say, “If this is really true, what wrong behavior, what harmful emotions, and what false attitudes result in me when I forget this?” It’s an extremely important question to me.

Over the years in my contemplation, I say, “What wrong behavior, what harmful emotion, what false attitudes happen when I forget this?” Every problem you have and every problem I have and anything you’re facing is because you have forgotten something. Some part of the truth is not shining to you. Some part of the truth of God is not weighty. It’s not glorious to you. So I ask myself, “What problems come up in my life when I forget this?” Immediately very often I’m drawn to the things I’m struggling with that day.

Fourthly, I say, “What should I be aspiring to on the basis of this verse? What does this teach me I should be stretching for and yearning for and praying for and seeking?” The last question is, “Why are you telling me this today, God? Why today? Why not yesterday? Why not tomorrow? Why not last week?” In other words, what you do with the text is you find the connections, and you say, “What does this show me about God? What does this show me about me?” I’m taking the truth and bringing it down to the heart.

As John Owen says and as Saint Augustine says, when you do that, when you pray it in, when you start saying, “Lord, I praise you for this; I confess to you for this; I see what’s wrong with me because of this,” and you think about all the practical connections, not always, sometimes a light surprises you. As John Owen put it, sometimes (not always) there is joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Now this is a discipline. This has to be done. For you to sit there and say, “Well, I’d like to have fellowship with God, but I don’t know how,” believe it or not I just told you how. It’s not as complicated as it may seem. I probably really didn’t have to take a half an hour to tell you. It means going to him and saying, “I thirst.” It means going to him and admitting all your problems come because you don’t have fellowship with him.

The reason you’re afraid is because his promises aren’t weighty enough to you. The reason you’re proud is because his commands aren’t weighty enough to you. The reason you’re under temptation is because something is more desirable, something more delectable, something more delicious than his love. What you need is fellowship with him.

3. Enjoy

Martin Luther said there was seldom a day in which he didn’t make this connection with God. What he would do is he would start the day, and he would do this kind of prayer I was talking about. He would take a passage of the Bible. He’d take the Lord’s Prayer, for example. He said he often would start with the Lord’s Prayer, and he would do the meditation I mentioned on every word … not just every idea, not just every sentence, every word!

He would take the words, “Our Father …” He’d start with our, and what he would do is say, “How can I praise you for this? The fact I have brothers and sisters. How can I confess to you for this? The fact is I tend to be a solitary individual Christian, and I don’t share like I should my … I don’t pray enough with other people. What can I aspire to? How does my life get impoverished if I forget that?”

What he would do is he would meditate on our. Then he’d meditate on Father. He’d go around and ask those questions. He’d meditate on, “Our Father who art in heaven …” He’d meditate on each word until the Holy Spirit would start to preach to him. He said, “Then what you have to do is you stop everything, and you write it all down.” Do you know what he means? It’s the same thing John Owen is talking about. It’s the same thing William Cowper is talking about. It’s the same thing Paul is talking about. It’s the same thing Augustine is talking about. It’s the same thing you can know about.

Luther would do two hours in the morning like that until the Holy Spirit began to speak to him, until the Spirit would come and glorify Jesus. Now he is not saying it happened all the time, but I’ll tell you something. It probably happened a lot more to him than to me. It’s simply because he wanted it. He wanted it! He wanted it. Now that’s not the only reason, and John is going to tell you (and the rest of the whole book is about this) it’s not the only reason we don’t have fellowship with God (just because we don’t seek it).

See, the reason I spent these two weeks on this is to show you one of the … I still say probably the main reason we don’t have fellowship with God is you don’t know what’s available, and you don’t know how to go after it. We live in such incredibly busy times that we aren’t contemplative people. We’re not meditative people. We don’t even know how to do it.

You must seek it. That’s the main reason we don’t have it. You don’t know it’s available, and you don’t set aside the time, and you don’t thirst after it. You don’t see it’s really the answer to all your problems. That’s not the only reason, believe it or not, because once you start seeking, John says there are three other problems.

He says first of all there is the conscience test. If you claim to have fellowship with God but you don’t walk in the light as God is light … He is talking about holy behavior. He says, “If you have a bad conscience because you know you’re doing something God doesn’t want, that’s the end of your fellowship. It’s gone. You’re at sea.”

Then he says there’s a second problem we call not the conscience problem but the relational problem. It’s right there in the text. Do you see it? He says fellowship with one another. Some of you do not want to reach out to people. You do not want to work at deep relationships with other Christians. John will show us your fellowship with God is dependent on your fellowship with each other.

If you’re either angry and bitter and resentful toward other Christians or if you just simply don’t reach out at all and you’re kind of a lone ranger Christian, in either case, you’re blocking your fellowship with God. Last of all, you have not just the conscience problem/obstacle. You don’t have just the fellowship or the relational problem.

You have the doctrinal problem. The doctrinal problem is you have to see the gospel as truth, because all of the fellowship with God is based on truth. It’s based on the Holy Spirit showing you the reality of God’s Word. If you don’t understand the truth, if you don’t understand the Word of God, if you don’t believe or understand the gospel (which is the essential message of the Bible), you’re not going to have fellowship with him either, but this is what you need. Don’t you see it? Don’t you want it?

You say, “I don’t even know if I know how to start.” Well, just do what Blind Bartimaeus did. He cried out, and he said, “Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me.” He sat down near where Jesus was passing by, right? Okay, this is where Jesus is passing by. Sit down. Trust it, and say, “Lord, have mercy on me.”

Just like Blind Bartimaeus. He sat down where Jesus was going by, and he cried out. Sit down, open it up, and say, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me,” and he will, because he died so you would know him. He is not trying to stay away from you. The reason you don’t know him is because of you, not because of him. Go. Seek him. Know him. Let’s pray.

We thank you, Father, it’s possible for us to have this knowledge of you. We ask only that you would help us to see what the next step is, everybody in this room. Nobody is probably here enjoying fellowship with God. What is the problem? Do we need to understand your Word better? Do we have some relational problem that’s blocking? Are we violating your Word and our conscience? Or do we simply not know what’s available? Are we refusing to even put ourselves in the way of blessing, even to make time for it? Change all this so we can know you and make you known. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive Enemy within—Part 1


Knowing that We Know God; 1 John, Part 1—October 9, 1994

1 John 1:5–10

We’re going through this whole year the first letter of John. It’s in the New Testament. You will find we’re going to read 1 John 1:5–10

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 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, purifies us from all sin.

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

This is God’s Word

We said, in looking at the first four verses of this passage of this book, John’s purpose is to give us the fullness of joy he has, because in the first four verses, he says as an apostle, as one of Jesus’ Twelve, he saw Jesus, he met Jesus, and he has a knowledge of Jesus which he calls fellowship. Fellowship with God. We spent some time talking about fellowship with God. It’s not just a general belief in God. It’s not just a morality or a moral decency. It’s actual sharing in his life. It’s actual intimacy with God. It’s knowing God, not just knowing about him. We’ve talked about that.

The first question that comes up, I think, in anybody’s mind, and I know, because one of the things we do, we have lots of classes downstairs after the service, both morning and evening, and I have a Question and Answer time as one of those classes. One thing that keeps coming out during those Question and Answer times and elsewhere, people say, “The way the Bible talks about fellowship with God makes me wonder if I’ve ever really tasted it,” or, “What I’ve tasted is so little, it makes me feel that maybe I’m not even in the same religion as these guys writing the New Testament. I don’t even know if I’m in the same religion. I have some sense of what we’re talking about here, but so little of it.”

The first question that right away comes up, “If this is so great, if this is available, fellowship with God, why are our lives characterized by so little of it? Why are our lives characterized by so little greatness, so little breadth of experience of God? Why? What gets in the way?” That’s what the whole rest of the book of John is about. John is a pastor. He’s not just a teacher. He’s a teacher and a pastor, and he knows this is how people think.

What immediately he launches into, starting here at verse 5 and all the way through the end of the book, he actually will be showing us several obstacles, things that get in the way, things that hold us back from fellowship with God. There are actually three of them altogether, but we’re going to be looking at them over the weeks.

The first one he introduces is the whole issue of darkness. “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” We want to have fellowship with God, but if we are walking in the darkness, we don’t have fellowship with God. Darkness. Walking in the light. We’re going to look at this for, as you know, a few weeks, but let’s take a look at it for the first time tonight.

There’s a sense in which this term darkness, brought up by John as one of the main problems we face, is so foundational. When I was coming over here, I was thinking, “How do I introduce this?” I realized I have a difficult issue in front of me, a difficult task. Ordinarily, I can start a sermon by saying, “There’s a problem here we face, and this passage addresses that problem.” Right away, everybody is engaged. They say, “Yes, that’s a problem I have,” or, “That’s a problem people have,” or, “That’s a problem we have. Let’s do something about it. What is the answer?” Everybody is engaged.

The trouble is that by John bringing up this first issue, he says, “Your biggest problem is the darkness of the world, the darkness of your hearts, the darkness of existence.” He’s bringing up something so foundational that it’s hard for us to see. It is the problem, but it’s something we’ve virtually gotten used to.

If you ask a fish about water, the fish will say, “What’s water?” because the fish, unless it’s dead, has never really been out of water very long, except through some very, very traumatic experiences. Generally, those few fish know something about water because they’ve lost it for awhile, but by and large, nobody has ever really been much out of the darkness. We really don’t know much about it.

What is darkness? In the Bible, the word darkness has several aspects, and yet they’re all linked. You can’t separate these. For example, what is a dark mind? When the Bible talks about darkness of mind, when we talk about darkness of mind, we’re talking about confusion, very little knowledge, unable to really see what’s going on, unable to understand. When we talk about the darkness of the soul, what are we talking about? When the Bible talks about the darkness of the soul, the dark night of the soul, it’s talking about despair. It’s talking about despondency.

But when we talk about dark desires, when the Bible talks about the dark heart, the dark desires, it’s talking about what? It’s talking about evil, wickedness, lust, impurity, violence. When John talks about darkness, he is saying this is our big problem, and it’s so great we almost don’t even think of it as a great problem, because we have even lost hope to ever get out of it.

Here’s what I mean. I wrote a few questions down. In other words, why is it no matter what we do, no matter how much we hope in things, they always fail of their promise? We put our hopes in ourselves. We never make it. We put our hopes in other people. We never make it. Why is it we can dream? Why are we capable of dreaming of things so far beyond anything we can attain? Why are we always in pain because of the way people treat us? Why do we do the things we know are wrong? Is there any other living being that does that?

Why do we do things we know will harm us? That’s darkness. That’s a combination, not just of evil desires and of despondency, but also of confusion and a lack of understanding and a kind of twistedness and a kind of brokenness and a kind of incoherence. Why do we do things we know are wrong? Why do we aspire to things we can never get to? Why are we even capable of that? What’s going on here?

Why are we in pain? Why do we treat each other the way we do? Why is there death? Not only that, why are we afraid of it? Why are we so cruel to each other? It’s not too hard, is it, to make the case that the world is a dark place, that there’s a darkness about our existence, about our own hearts, about our relationships, about existence itself? Everything is breaking down. Everything is decaying. Everything disappoints us.

Do you see the problem? The problem here is this problem is so great we even … You’re even a little startled, aren’t you, as I ask these questions? You don’t even ask those questions anymore. You just accept it. You don’t sit around saying, “Why is it people are afraid of death? Why shouldn’t we be? Why is it we aspire to things, can even know about things, that nobody could ever attain to? Why is it people are so cruel to each other?” You just take it for granted. John will not.

Remember there was one night maybe a year or so ago we talked about this? There is nothing more pessimistic than the Bible, and there is nothing more optimistic than the Bible, the message of the gospel. There is nothing more pessimistic. Everybody else says, “Well, there are things to do to improve our situation, things to do to get out of the darkness. There are some things we can do.” What does the Bible say? “There’s not a thing you can do … not a thing. All the efforts will fall short. You’re lost. You’re lost.” That’s what the Bible says.

But then, as soon as you start to talk about what you can do, ask human beings what they can do, and they talk like, “Well, all we can do is just light a match in the darkness, just one little match. Just light one little candle in the darkness. I will just try to live a better life. I will try to rise above my circumstances. That’s my contribution.” The Bible says, “You can destroy the darkness! You can abolish it forever. It can be; it will be swallowed up!”

The way you can tell you understand the Christian message is you are far more pessimistic and far more optimistic than anything you can read in the newspapers, anything you can read in the magazines, anything anybody says, at the same time. Therefore, don’t you dare accept darkness. Don’t accept these things.

John says, “I can show you the way to escape.” Nothing less than that. That’s what John is saying in these verses. As I said, we’re going to look at them for several weeks, but I can at least outline what he tells us here. How can you escape the darkness? How can you eventually have it abolished? How can it be? How can you walk in the light? How can you get out of that despondency? How can you get out of the evil you see in yourself, the selfishness and the pride and the cowardice? How can you have your mind enlightened in all those areas, in all those ways?

Well, John tells us you have to do three things. Actually, you have to look at it for awhile to see, but again, just like the problem is so basic we hardly even notice it, the solution is so foundational that it might be easy to miss it unless you do some thinking, so I’m going to try to paint with broad strokes here. First thing, look. “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light …”

1. If you want to escape the darkness, you have to begin with God

This is the message. What is the message? John has said, “I have fullness of joy. I have a way to have fellowship with God. I have a way to escape the darkness of this world. I have a message.” So he starts the message, and the first word of the message is God. You might say, “You’re belaboring the obvious.” I told you I was, but I want you to see that the obvious is not as obvious as you might think. John starts his message with God and not with you. He starts his message with God and who he is, not with you and your problems.

The Bible does the same thing. The Bible starts, “In the beginning God …” Four words, and frankly, everything else in the Bible is an elaboration on those first four words. That’s basically it right there. “In the beginning God …” What does it mean? John is saying not only is the answer the way to get out of darkness, not only is the answer to start with God instead of yourself, but starting with God is the answer.

Let me show you this in a couple of ways. Intellectually, this is certainly true. Intellectually, you have to start with God. One of the things people are trying to always say to me when I try to talk to them … They say, “Well, religion isn’t important to me. I don’t need to figure those things out.”

One of the things I learned the other night at our college ministry meeting was … Somebody did a bunch of clips, most of which came out of Woody Allen. So many of the Woody Allen comments about God are things like this. They say, “Who knows about these things? Who knows about whether there’s a God or not? Who knows about any of these big issues? They don’t know. The great ones don’t know, and we don’t know either, so let’s not try to figure it out. Let’s just live our lives.”

Now that is very common. That is a whole intellectual mindset. The mindset is, “Since all the great thinkers of the years have never answered these great questions about whether there’s a God and what he’s like and so on, who am I to do it? I’m just going to decide on the basis of what seems good for me. I’m going to be a pragmatist. I’m going to live my life day to day. I don’t need to decide about these big issues.”

The Bible says, and I hope you’ll see common sense says, that’s impossible. The Bible says you have to start with God intellectually. I’m not going to belabor this one too far because I think this is really a good subject for another sermon at some point, but you can’t avoid it. Did any of you see the New York Times Book Review section today? The name of the review is “The Odds on God.” It’s a review of a book that talks about cosmology. In the book review, it mentions the fact that most scientists agree that the universe was caused by the big bang. The big question is … What caused the demolition? What caused the big bang?

The writer points out that if the bang had happened any faster than it did, even infinitesimally a bit faster than it did, there wouldn’t have been matter coalescing, and if it happened any slower, it wouldn’t have been a big bang. He says, “Therefore, the very fact we exist is either a miracle or the most unbelievable fluke.”

Did those gases coalesce on their own? Are you an accident or are you a creature of design? Everything, everything, everything depends on which of those two options are true. Pascal, in #427 of his Pensées, says you cannot live without any sense or judgment unless you decide whether there is a God or an afterlife or whether your life is an accident.

See, you can’t make a move without thinking about it, and you say, “Well, yeah, I’m making my moves all the time and I’m not thinking about it.” What Pascal would say is, “No, that’s not exactly true. You are betting your life on one or the other.” That’s what he’d say. You are assuming one or the other in all of your life choices. You’re betting your life. So you’d better think about it. In other words, you have to start with God. Intellectually, it’s the only coherent way to live a life, but pragmatically, it’s unavoidable. So intellectually, you have to start with God.

People do. People who say, “I don’t know if there’s a God. I don’t believe there’s a God,” if you reason, if you use rationality in such a way that you assume the universe is orderly, if you make moral appeal, if you get angry about injustice and you act as if there’s a standard out there you and I should both know, if you complain there’s suffering and evil in the world and you assume there’s a standard by which the world can be judged, you’re starting with God. You’re assuming God! You just won’t acknowledge it, and that’s dishonest.

Intellectually, “In the beginning God …” You can’t think unless you start with God. You can’t understand the universe unless you start with God. But let me get into what I think John is getting at here even more directly. Personally, you cannot understand yourself unless you understand God. The reason the gospel message starts with God and not with you is because all of our problems come from a kind of self-centeredness and a self-absorption, the fact that our hearts really demand equality with God and we put ourselves first, and that’s the problem.

The gospel message demands you depart from that self-centeredness right away, right at the beginning. In other words, it’s very, very possible … well, possible … it’s inevitable people approach Christianity starting with themselves. You come to Christianity because you have a problem generally, because you have needs, because you have lax in you. So you come at it, and you say, “Okay, I want to know if I should be a Christian or not.” How do you go about it?

Boy, I can always see the wheels going. You have a little calculator in there, and the calculator has an assets and deficits thing on it. What you’re saying is, “What does Christianity offer me and what does Christianity demand of me?” That’s what you’re doing. “I have needs. I have problems. What is it that you have for me? Okay, that’s good. Oh, all those things. That’s great. What do you demand of me? What do you want from me? What do I have to give up? What will it cost?”

So you’re sitting there, and depending on the sermon, sometimes the sermons are asset sermons, aren’t they? “Look at all you have!” Sometimes they’re cost sermons, aren’t they? “Look at what you owe!” You’re sitting there, and from week to week you’re getting excited. Then you’re getting kind of downcast. Your little calculator is going on through.

The message doesn’t start with you. This is the message. God. The gospel says, “Here’s how you get out of your darkness. Stop thinking about who you are and what you are owed, and start by contemplating God and who he is and what he is owed. Get rid of your assets and deficits. Get rid of your cost analysis.” “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is …”

Now if God is, who cares how much it costs? Who cares? You owe it to him! Who cares what’s good and what’s bad? Oh, we don’t think like that, do we? We don’t think it’s possible God might actually objectively be real. We have a tendency to come at it completely subjectively. We come at it saying, “What’s in this for me? Is this right for me? Is this true for me?”

Plenty of people, after they start to really get into Christianity, will say, “Well, I certainly would never want to impose my faith on anybody else.” A lot of people say, “I like Christianity, but I don’t think it’s right to ever impose it on anybody else.” What do you mean by impose? If what you mean by impose is pushing, being coercive, being mean, manipulating, of course.

But if you mean, “I would never try to persuade somebody else,” you have an understanding of Christianity that starts completely with you. “It’s true because of me.” You know, “This is the message which you have heard: I have a need and I’ve come to Jesus and now I’m better.” That’s not the gospel. This is the gospel: “God is light.” See? If you start with yourself and you start with your needs, you’re never going to get out of the darkness.

Do you know that old line from Rudyard Kipling? There’s that line that goes, “And what should they know of England who only England know?” In other words, you don’t know your own culture until you get out of your culture. You don’t know your city until you get out of your city. You don’t really know yourself until you get out of yourself. That’s what you need as a perspective. You don’t understand yourself until you understand God. You don’t understand life until you want something more than life.

The philosophers admit it. If this life is all there is, if when you die you rot, and when the sun dies everything goes to nothing and nobody even will be around, then it makes no difference whether you’re a nice person or an evil person in the end, because that’s all a matter of opinion anyway. In other words, if this life is all there is, this life is pointless.

That’s the message of the gospel. If you start with you, you’ll never get out of the darkness. Life won’t mean anything until you get beyond life. This world will mean nothing to you. You’ll never understand it unless you get beyond the world. This life you’ll never be able to live with greatness unless you’re able to say like the psalmist says, “… thy lovingkindness is better than life …”

Until there’s something better than life, life won’t be any better for you, unless there’s something worth dying for, lots of things worth dying for. You have to start with God. Our whole problem is we start with ourselves, and the gospel just demands right at the start that you do something about the self-centeredness which has gotten you down anyway.

2. If you want to get out of the darkness, you not only have to start with God, but you have to start with God as he reveals himself

Look. “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you …” Now again, this goes right in the face of the way the average modern person wants to approach religion.

I said, first of all, we start with ourselves, and right away, the message is God. “Stop! Forget yourself and think about God. Forget yourself for one minute and contemplate God in his greatness. He’s light. In him is no darkness at all.” That’s the only way you’ll get out of your darkness.

But then secondly, not just a God in general. People want to search for God, and they want to kind of construct a God, but John comes right out and says, “You have to not only start with God, number one, but number two, you have to start with the revelation from God, God as he reveals himself.”

He says, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you …” Did you see that? John does not say, “Now I’m an old man, and I’ve been studying for a long time. I’ve been studying the Bible. I’ve talked to people. I’ve studied Greek philosophy, and over the years, I have done much reflection and a lot of distilling of many, many ideas, and I have come after years of thought to this particular conception of God.”

No! He says, “I used to have this stupid idea of God, and then I met him. We heard this from him and we declare it to you.” The only way you’re going to know God is if you believe he has spoken through the apostles and through prophets and through Jesus, and he gives you a revelation of himself. In other words, the gospel says, “It doesn’t matter what you think about God. All that matters is what he says about himself.”

The reason I have to run right on on this is because many people will say, “Well, now wait a minute. Are you trying to tell me I have to believe the Bible is the authoritative Word of God if I’m going to escape the darkness?” Well, look at it this way. There are a lot of people who are kind of inconsistent on that. There are a lot of people who just really don’t like to come down on our doctrine of Scripture, and yet they accept much of what the Bible says as the Word of God.

I want just you to know this. If you don’t have a Book you can come to and bow to and say, “This is what God tells me about himself,” if you’re in a position of being able to say, “This might be something God says, and this might be something God says, and how am I going to decide that?” you will not be able to have a personal relationship with him.

See, I’d just as soon not go into how we know the Bible is the Word of God tonight. I would just like you to know what the consequences are of it not being. Here are what the consequences are. If the Bible is the Word of God, you can have a personal relationship with him, and if it’s not, all you can have is a philosophical conception of him. I mean it.

Why? Well, listen. Imagine trying to get to know somebody who will not speak to you. You can get to know a lot about her. You can study her. You can talk to people who’ve met her and who do talk to her. You can get all sorts of legal records. You can even write the definitive biography, but unless she talks to you, you don’t have a personal relationship with her. You can know an awful lot about God, but unless you’re able to look at some words somewhere and say, “This is God speaking to me without a doubt …”

If you have a body of material and you can kind of pick and choose depending on what you want to do, you’re into philosophy. You’re into constructing a God you want. You’re able to say, “Well, this might be God. This might not be God. What do I decide I think God is like? Which parts of the Bible do I think are okay?” What you have is philosophy. You are constructing. You cannot really know God personally unless you’re able to listen to these words. “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you …” You can’t just start with God; you have to start with what God says about himself. It doesn’t matter what you think about him.

I’ll tell you something. If somebody says, “You know, Tim, you say you were born in Pennsylvania, but I like to think of you as having been born in Saudi Arabia and raised there till you were 20.” I would say, “Well, I’m glad you like to think that, but you don’t know me, because you refuse to be controlled by what I’m telling you. You don’t know me.”

If you look at the Bible and you say, “Well, there are some of these things in there I don’t know if God said them or not. I certainly can’t believe these things anymore,” you can’t have a personal relationship. You’ll never escape the darkness unless you’re willing to receive what the apostles said. “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light …”

3. You not only have to start with God, you not only have to start with God’s revelation of himself, but last of all, you have to start with a holy God

I’ll give you the summary, though in the future we’ll go into this in more detail. The message of the gospel does not start with the love of God; it starts with the holiness of God.

You notice John’s message starts with, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” That means God is holy, and he cannot countenance darkness or evil. He cannot live with it. He cannot tolerate it. He cannot brook it. He cannot live with it. He’s a holy and just God. That’s how the gospel starts.

Right away, we might say, “Wait a minute! Do we have a non sequitur here?” In verse 4, John said, “I have a lot of joy. I have joy. I know the Lord, and I want to share this joy with you. I want to show you how you can have this joy.” So we’re there going, “Okay, okay. Tell me what the message is. How can I know this joy? Okay, I want joy.”

The first thing he says after verse 4 is, “Okay, let me tell you the message that brings me such joy. God is absolutely holy and he will not brook evil at all.” You say, “This is supposed to bring me joy? This is good news?” Do you know what John is saying? John is saying you will not understand the love of God objectively and you will not enjoy the love of God subjectively unless you understand he is utterly holy.

Let me give you a little case illustration of this. There was an old French philosopher a couple of centuries ago. It’s a famous story. He had lived a very licentious life, a very immoral life by Christian standards. He was dying, and on his death bed, somebody said, “Aren’t you afraid of meeting God?” He said very nonchalantly, “God will forgive me. That’s his job.”

Now look carefully, and you’ll see what happened. Here’s a man who believed in a God of love but not a God of light. Here’s a man who believed God was absolutely love, and if you believe God is only love and not holy, look what happened. His understanding of God being nothing but love, in his life it didn’t change him, and in his death it didn’t console him. Unless you understand God is light, the idea of Jesus dying on the cross will make no sense to you at all.

As a matter of fact, let me conclude with this statement. Look carefully. “… God is light …” That’s how it begins. But how it ends is, “… the blood of Jesus …” God is light, but our fellowship with God and our fellowship with each other all come because of the blood of Jesus purifying us. If you believe in a God of light but not a God of the blood, or if you believe in a God of love but not a God of light, either of those kinds of misunderstandings of God injects distortion into your life, and I will submit to you that all of us don’t really have the gospel together here.

The gospel is you are utterly wicked and lost, but you are completely loved and completely saved and completely accepted through the blood of Christ. Nobody, as far as I know, including me, has that so much together. We all have a tendency to see God more as one or more than the other, and it will destroy you. Even if you have just a little bit out of balance, it will tip you.

See, friends, is there anybody here who really has that view of God that’s very popular today? “God is nothing but love. No standards. He’s just kind of your assistant on the road to self-actualization.” All right, you try to raise a child that way. Just give the child love. Let the child have no parental authority, no standards, and you will see that child will grow up to be an orphan. That child will not know which way is up. That child will have a vertigo. He won’t know which way is up. Nobody around him, no feeling of limits, no understanding. You just try that. Give the kid nothing but love. Never say no. Never say obey. Never! That’s child abuse.

A lot of you have been raised on the enlightened idea of a God who’s nothing but love, and you feel like an orphan because you are. But if you have a God who’s only light and you don’t know anything about the blood, that’s a God … You’ll be a driven person. You’ll be driven. You’ll always be feeling something’s wrong. You’ll be pretty moral, and yet you’ll be always fleeing and nobody pursuing. You’ll always feel like too little butter stretched over too much bread. “Something’s wrong. I don’t know what it is.” Driven into the ground.

You will never know the joy of God unless you know he’s light. Only because you know he’s light do you have any idea of how important and how critical and how wonderful it is that Jesus Christ died for you. Don’t you see? Light without blood will crush you. Love without light; it’s just trivial. Of course, it’s his job! No, God is light, and he had the right to crush us all, but he didn’t. He sent his Son to die for us, and that’s the only way you’ll ever get out of the darkness, is to know that and have it lift you up. That’s the way God will destroy the darkness, on the strength of what Jesus did for us on the cross.

We’ll look at this more as the weeks go on. But oh, my friends, you can know. You can walk in light. You can get out of the darkness if you’re willing to start with him and what he says about himself, and what he says about himself is, “I am light. In me is no darkness at all.” But through Jesus Christ, all the darkness in your life can go away forever. Let’s pray.

The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive Enemy within—Part 2


Knowing that We Know God; 1 John, Part 1—October 16, 1994

1 John 1:5–10

The passage we’re going to be basing our teaching on is 1 John 1:5–10. We’re going to be reading that and making that the basis of our teaching right now.

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 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, purifies us from all sin.

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

This is God’s Word

Well, we have to remember when we get to this passage, verses 5 and on, you see John starts off saying, “This is the message …” We have to ask ourselves what came right before, or we don’t know why he’s saying, “This is the message.”

We’ve been looking at 1 John. We’re looking at this epistle, this letter, all year, and we noticed in the very first four verses we heard John say that as an apostle, as one of the people who had actually met Jesus and had touched him, had seen him and touched him before and after his resurrection, he had not only a general knowledge, an intellectual knowledge that Jesus was the Son of God, but he now had what he calls fellowship with God.

John talks about fellowship. We spent a good deal of time talking about fellowship. Fellowship with God means personal interaction, personal exchange, a real dealing with the very Godhead, the Father and the Son. He said, “We have fellowship with the Father and the Son.” In other words, the very glory and love of his presence comes down sometimes on the soul. There’s nothing greater than this. This is what we’re all after. This is what you’re after, whether you know it or not. This is what you’re after in art. This is what you’re after in career. This is what you’re after in sex. This is what you’re after in love. This is what you’re after in everything.

We spent a lot of time talking on that. He said, “I want you to have what I have. I want you to have this fullness of joy.” He said, in verse 4, the verse right before the section we read, “I’m writing you this, I’m sending you this message, so you can have the fullness of joy, so you can have fellowship with God too.”

Starting with verse 5, John is saying, “Now if you want to have this fullness of joy, you have to get the message down.” It happens so often in the New Testament. That’s what’s so wonderful about looking at the New Testament. You have a gospel presentation in verses 5–10. You have a nutshell of the gospel. What John is saying is there are these things you have to know if you want to have this joy. You have to grasp these principles.

Now there are three of them. We began looking at the first one last week, so we can mention it and then keep moving. They’re very simple, so simple, but we mustn’t miss them, and especially tonight when we’re going to be receiving the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is just simply a visible gospel presentation.

He says you have to understand three things: God is light, you have sin, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses from all sin. Those are the three things you have to know if you want to have this joy, if you want to have fellowship with God. If you don’t have all three of those, if you don’t understand that, you’ll never have fellowship with God. So, we take a look at it. We began looking at it last week, so we can be a little bit more brief, but let’s remind ourselves of what we said and so on.

1. God is light

He says, the first thing, the message starts with God. “… God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” What’s remarkable about this, of course, is John is saying, “Here’s how I want you to understand joy. I want you to get this joy. Here’s the first thing you have to understand if you have this great joy. If you want this tremendous joy, the first thing you have to understand, God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.”

Most of us, I think, look at that and say, “Uh, I thought you were about to tell me how to have joy. I thought you were about to tell me how to have this fullness of joy, and the first thing you tell me is God is holy, God is light, God is perfect. He cannot brook any kind of evil. In him there is no darkness at all. That doesn’t make me feel good. Why do you start with that?”

John is basically saying, “You will never have joy unless you understand God is light.” Though we alluded to it last week, let’s say it again. John is saying that unless you understand God is holy and he’s perfect and he’s morally pure, that he’s absolutely just, that he cannot tolerate evil, if you don’t understand that and if you don’t grasp that, his love will not bring you joy.

We mentioned the great philosopher who was dying a couple of hundred years ago. He lived a very debauched life. Somebody says, “Aren’t you afraid to meet God after all the kind of immoral life you’ve led?” He says, “God’ll forgive me. That’s his job.” What we have there is a great example. If God is only love, then accepting people is his job. But do you realize … here’s the irony … if you have to do something, it’s not mercy? Right?

In other words, if it’s my duty to do something, if I’ve been elected to do something, if I have been hired to do something or something like that, and I give you something I was elected to do or hired to do, if it’s my duty to do it, if it’s my job to do it, it’s not mercy! The great irony is there are so many people who have rejected this idea of God, that God is holy, that God is just. “Ah,” people say, “that’s the problem with the old-time religion. All this talk about God being holy and just. I believe in a God who loves us unconditionally. I believe in a God who is nothing but love.”

If he’s nothing but love, he’s not love. If he’s not light, he’s not really love, because if it’s his job to accept and if it’s his job to forgive and if he just shrugs at no matter what you do and if it doesn’t bother him about all the evil (It maybe bothers him, but he doesn’t do anything about it. It’s his job just to love and forgive everyone no matter what they do), it’s not mercy! You will never be thrilled by the mercy, because it’s not mercy! If God is only mercy, he’s not mercy at all.

Now what is the holiness of God? When it says God is light and in him there is no darkness at all, maybe the best way to put it is this way, my favorite way, to say that God makes everything revolve around what is good and what is right and what is true. God makes everything turn on that. Everything that happens, everything he says, everything he does, everything he controls, the center, his center. He makes everything turn on what is good and what is right and what is just.

For a moment, let’s contrast that with you and me. What is our center? What is the thing we make everything turn on? What is the center of our orbit? Well, we take into consideration what is true and what is just. We will be happy to consider that, but really what is the nonnegotiable? What is the nonnegotiable of our lives? What makes us happy. What is comfortable. What is advantageous. Everything, for us, turns on what is good for us. What is good for us.

We’ll be happy to consider what is true and right, but the fact is … Here are the Ten Commandments, and it goes that way, and what really will work for us, what will be comfortable for us, what will make us happy, what will enrich us, what will make us happy goes off in this direction. We go in that direction. Therefore, we make everything turn on what is comfortable, and he makes everything turn on what is right.

The reason I use the metaphor this way is the reason our solar system is a solar system, the reason the planets don’t run into each other, is that all the planets have the same orbit … the sun. When all the planets have the same orbit, they all agree on the same center. There’s harmony. But what if two or three of the planets had different orbital centers? For awhile it would be all right, but eventually they’d crash. They’d collide.

When we get near the God who is light, who makes everything center on what is right and what is true, when Isaiah got near the Holy God, and he says, “Woe is me; I’m coming apart,” and when Job gets near the Holy God and says, “I see you with my eye and I despise myself in dust and ashes,” and when Peter got near the Holy God and he says, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I’m a sinful man,” this is the way you always react when you get near the real God and you realize he and he alone is the right center. He is the only worthy center.

We don’t want to see that. We don’t like to see that. We don’t believe that. To get near it and to realize that the things that seem so reasonable to us … our center, our happiness, our joy … are completely unreasonable. We hate that idea. So to get near the very holiness of God always is traumatic. But John says you will not understand the love of God till you see the holiness of God, a God of standards. God is light. In him there is no darkness at all.

The second point goes very, very tight. The second point is not just you have to see God is light, but you have to see …

2. You have sin

Again and again, John says, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another … If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves … If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar …”

What he is saying is the second thing you have to know in order to really have joy in your life is that you are a wretched sinner. Okay? Unless you look at the whole, unless you see the context, you won’t see that’s what he’s saying. He’s saying if you want to have joy in your life, first of all you have to know God is light, but secondly, if you want to have joy in your life, you have to see you are a wretched sinner.

That’s sounds counterintuitive, I know, but what you have here is critical. The test of whether you are a real Christian, the test of whether you have fellowship with God, the test of whether you understand the gospel or whether you’re just a nice person, a religious person, a moral person, but not a real Christian, not a person who understands the gospel … How do you know the difference? It’s how you experience sin and failure.

You see, a moralist is somebody who gets his or her spiritual confidence out of your performance. You say, “I know God loves me because I’m better than most. I try my best. I’ve given my life. I come to church. I give my money. I work hard to be good. I follow the Ten Commandments.” Your confidence is in your own performance, and as a result, your understanding of God’s love is based on your performance. A Christian is somebody whose confidence is based completely in Christ’s performance. A Christian is somebody who says, “The only reason God accepts me is because of what Jesus has done for me.”

The problem is a Christian and a moralist, a person who understands the gospel and a nice, decent religious person, will come to church and they look on the outside very, very similar. They’re both trying to be good. They both believe what the Bible teaches in general ways. They both respect Jesus Christ. They both pray. They both give money. They both try to help out. They try to help the poor. They both are trying to live good lives. So how do you know the difference?

Here’s the difference. John says you can tell the difference because recognizing your sin, confessing your sin, brings greater joy and fellowship with God. It brings you into the light. But if you’re a moralist, new discoveries of your sin devastate you and leave you devastated. In other words, a moralistic person, when you see you’re a worse sinner than you thought, you become less appreciative of God’s love for you. You doubt his love for you. You say, “How could he possibly love me?”

But if you’re a Christian and you get new discoveries of your sin and you see new depths of your own selfishness, of course that’s shattering, of course that’s upsetting, but you begin to say, “What Jesus did for me on the cross was even greater than I thought.” You get a greater appreciation of God’s love for you.

A moralist, when you see you’re a much more wicked sinner than you thought, you never want to see God again. You leave him. You run away. You don’t want to be in his presence. A Christian, when you see you’re a more wicked sinner than you thought, you fly to him. It’s not until the last day when we see how holy he really is and we see how wicked we really are that we will really have fullness of joy. Do you see why? Because not until you see the size of the debt will you know the size of the payment.

Not until you see the size of the problem will you know the size of the solution. Not until you see just how in debt you are will you ever appreciate the incredible riches that have been put to your account. The way you respond to sin tells you whether or not you’re a Christian or a moral person … just a moral person, just a moralist, just a religious person. Pretty interesting.

You have to know three things. First of all, unless you see God is light, you’ll never get fellowship with him or have joy. Secondly, unless you see you’re a sinner, that you have sin, that you do sin … Those aren’t the same thing, but tonight we don’t have time to look at it. If you look carefully (just in passing I’ll mention this), John says three things. He says we walk in darkness (even though sometimes we say we have fellowship with him), we have sin, and we do sin. Verse 6, 8, and verse 10. We walk in darkness, we have sin, and we do sin.

Those are three aspects to the doctrine of sin. Sin is more than just actions. That’s number 10. To really understand your sin nature is to realize you have a nature. You have sin before you do sin. There’s a sinful nature. There’s a selfishness. There’s a pride that’s in us. Walking in darkness means sin is more than just a bunch of deeds, but it’s an entire outlook. It’s an entire mindset. It’s like a culture. It’s a whole outlook.

It’s the outlook that only thinks about God when you have a need. That when there’s a problem, then you say, “God, how do you get me out of this?” and, “God, why did you get me into this?” But you think of God in terms of what he can do for you and what he can give you. There’s a whole outlook. Christians understand the depth of their sin. It’s a mindset. It’s a nature. It’s not simply particular violations of rules and regulations. Until you understand that, you’ll never understand the joy of the Lord and the joy of fellowship with him.

3. Jesus’ blood cleanses from all sin

It’s the blood that makes it possible for us to get joy from the looking at God’s holiness and our sin. I’ll put it to you this way. You can’t know God’s light unless you know Christ’s blood, and you can’t know Christ’s blood unless you know God’s light. You can’t appreciate God’s light. It’ll just crush you unless you see Christ’s blood. On the other hand, you can’t be moved and melted by Christ’s blood unless you see God’s light and your sin. They work together.

It tells us that if we take the blood of Christ, in a sense, if we use the blood of Christ in our life, we will walk in the light. What does it mean to walk in the light? I think this is one of the great things about Christianity. I hate to trivialize it with this illustration, but it’s a little bit too hard to pass over.

Woody Hayes used to be the Ohio State coach. He used to say the reason he didn’t do much passing … They were a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust kind of team. He never did much passing. He says, “I’ll tell you why. When you pass the ball, there are three things that can happen, and two of them are bad. The ball can be caught or the ball can be dropped or it can be intercepted. There are three things that can happen, and two are bad. That’s why I don’t pass.”

Now in all other religions, when you get tempted, there are three things that can happen, and two of them are bad. In other words, you can obey, or you can fail and repent, but, you see, you still disobeyed. You’ve still fallen short, and the only way to actually be saved is to be good and be obedient. The third thing you can do is to sin and not repent. You can obey, you can sin and repent, or you can sin and not repent.

But in Christianity, of those three things, two of them are good, because you walk in the light by using the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ, first of all, helps you as you’re about to be tempted, and it keeps you obedient. If you use the blood of Christ as you’re walking through the day, it’ll keep you obedient.

Well, how? It’s pretty simple. The cross is the number one incentive for obedience. You look up at the cross and you see Jesus dying. Do you know why he died? It tells you in 1 Peter 2. It says he bore our sins on the tree that we might die unto sins and live unto righteousness. So I look at Jesus’ blood, and do you know what it says to me? Do you know what Jesus says to me from the cross if you think about it when you’re tempted? “Should I disobey? Should I do what God wants me to do or should I do something else?”

I hear Jesus Christ saying, “Are you about to completely frustrate the entire design and aim of my whole career? What do you think I’m doing up here on the cross? I am dying so you could be free from sin. Don’t I look like I’ve been beaten enough? Are you going to hit me one more time? Don’t I look like I’ve been speared enough? Are you going to hit the other side? Are you going to put your hands around my throat?”

When we disobey, we never think of it like that, do we? That’s why we disobey! We’re not using the blood of Christ to keep us in the light. When we’re about to sin, we really don’t think, “Oh, I’m slamming Jesus Christ to the floor. I’m trampling on his blood. I’m hitting him one more time.” We don’t think of it. All we say is, “I can’t help it. I’m unhappy. I deserve a break. Poor me.” We don’t think of the blood of Christ. We don’t think we’re trampling on him. That’s the reason why we do sin.

The blood of Christ destroys the attractive power of sin over you. You look at it and say, “Look. Here’s Jesus Christ writhing in the dust, sweating blood in the garden, dying on the cross. The spear. The thorns. The wormwood. The gall. All for us!” In spite of it all, he did all that for us. What could you do for him? To be true to us, he experienced all that. To be true to him, what are you going to have to do to be obedient?

The blood of Christ keeps you in the light by keeping you obedient. Your incentive for obedience is not a fear you’re going to lose his love. Not at all! Your incentive for obedience is, “I have an unloseable love that was put on me at an incredible cost. How in the world can I trample on it?”

But on the other hand, if you do sin (and this is the incredible thing about the cross and about the blood of Christ), no matter what your disease, this is the medicine, because if you’re about to sin, the blood of Christ says, “How can you do this to me?” It is the only motive that’ll melt you down. You don’t hear God saying, “You’d better not do that or I’ll get you.” Instead, you have Jesus Christ saying, “How could you do this to me?” It melts you. There’s no greater, more natural and organic and wonderful incentive to be obedient than the cross.

But at the same time, if you have sinned … Oh, what is there that’s holding him to the cross? You know, he’s God. What kept him up there? Look at the pain he’s going through. Look at the suffering he’s going through. What kept him there? The nails? The chains? The cords? No. His love for you. His love for you was so strong that it took hell itself being poured out, the wrath of God being poured out, the cup.

Now do you think that if it bore that, your inconsistency, your sin, your coldness, do you think your sin and your failures are going to wear out poor little Jesus’ love for you … if it took that? Therefore, if you’re crushed under guilt, if you say, “Oh, I’ve done it again. How in the world could God receive me?” you don’t understand God’s love. You’re insulting the love of Jesus Christ. The very same blood that keeps you from sinning restores you when you do. This is the medicine for any disease, whether it’s temptation or accusation, whether it’s too much guilt or too little guilt.

This is the amazing thing! The blood of Jesus Christ gets you to walk in the light, because if you are about to be tempted, the blood of Christ will keep you straight if you listen to it. But if you’ve fallen, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you. You look at it and you say, “I’ve been restored.” Don’t you see? There are three things that can happen. The only thing that can destroy you is for you to sin and not go to the blood.

There are three things that can happen. You can obey because of the blood, you can sin and repent through the blood, or (and the only thing that can destroy you) you can sin and refuse to repent, to say, “My sins are too great.” You can walk in the light tonight no matter where you are. If you’re tempted, if you’re facing some things right now that are just too hard you think, you feel like you’re about to go under, what we’re about to do is we’re about to break the bread, we’re about to pour out the cup. It’s the blood. It’s the death of Christ. Look at it.

If you think, “I’m about to go under. I can’t help it; I have to hate that person. I can’t help it; I have to be dishonest. I can’t help it; I have to give in this way. I have to do this. I have to do that,” no you don’t. You can be absolutely free. The blood of Christ will help you to walk in the light.

On the other hand, if you’ve come here tonight and you’ve done something that’s quite bad, quite wrong, and you have this concern that maybe, “Oh my word, no. Maybe it’s too much. Maybe I’ve finally worn Christ out,” look what he endured for you. His love is strong love. It can endure anything. You can’t break it with your sin. He’s still there for you. George Herbert, in one of his poems, put it this way, “Though I fail, I weep …” There it is. Isn’t that great? “Though I fail, I weep …” The only way to truly fail is not to weep.

Though I fail, I weep;

Though I halt in pace,

Yet I creep

To the Throne of Grace.

That’s what he said. Maybe some of you need to do that now. Let’s get ready to do it.

Our Father, please enable us now to see that two out of three are good things. Because of the gospel, there are three things that can happen as we go out into the world and seek to obey you, and two of them are good. We thank you that the blood of Jesus Christ equally is an incentive for obedience and a cleansing from guilt. Because of his blood, we say, “How in the world can I do this sin?” But if we have sinned, “How in the world can I be crushed with guilt?”

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