In recent times there have been a number of critically acclaimed films which question the nature of what we believe is reality.
The most popular of these films is called the Matrix.
Filmed in Sydney in 1999 and starring such notable actors as Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne,
the Matrix is a film that somehow managed to find a satisfactory compromise between special effects and a good story line.
Reeves plays Neo, a computer hacker searching for the elusive Morpheus
- a famous criminal and computer programmer,
played by Lawrence Fishburne.
But of course when he finds Morpheus and his friends,
he discovers that the entire world as we know it is actually a computer program,
and we are all living in a dream while robots harvest our bodies in the real world.
So how do we know anything?
How do we know that we aren't all asleep at the moment and having a dream?
How do we know that we haven't been created only 5 seconds ago
with a memory of our entire life implanted into us by someone?
Philosophers have chewed over these questions for centuries
and, true to form, have solved nothing in the process.
But for us as Christians these are serious questions.
Can a person know that they are a Christian?
Can a person know that they are saved?
Did God intend us to know these things?
There are two things I want you to know when you walk out of church.
I want you to know that you are a Christian,
and I want you to know that you have the assurance of heaven.
Why do I want you to know there things?
Because God wants us to know these things,
and because God has made it possible for us to know these things.
As you can see on the outline there are three points I want to make this morning.
The first is that we can know we are Christians because of the Holy Sprit in us.
The second is that we can know we are Christians because we reject the devil and his teachings.
The third is that we can know we are Christians because we accept Apostolic Teaching.
So let's move on to the first point:
We can know we are Christians because of the Holy Spirit is us.
1. We can know we are Christians because of the Holy Spirit in us.
The verse is question is chapter 3 verse 24. Let me read it out:
Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
Now let me just refresh your memory about this verse.
John speaks about those who obey his commands
- that is, the commands of God the Father.
Verse 23 explains what obedience is
- it is to believe in the name of God's son, Jesus Christ, a
nd to love one another as Jesus commanded us.
This means that those who do this
- believe in Christ and love one another
- live in Christ, and Christ lives in them.
But rather than focus upon this,
John instead focuses upon the Holy Spirit.
He says that we can know that God lives in us because of the Holy Spirit in us.
Now what is this all about?
It is tempting to assume that such a rule of faith is subjective in nature
- that is, we can know through our own experience.
So, the logic goes, we can know that we are Christians because we've had supernatural experiences that can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit.
We may see visions, speak in tongues, prophesy, heal people and so on.
And because of these things we can know that we are Christians.
Is that was in view here?
The answer to this is no.
Our assurance of faith is never found in our daily experiences,
no matter how wondrous they might seem.
What John is talking about here is something different.
Remember that the first six verses of chapter four deal with prophets and prophecy.
And remember that you can tell what sort of Spirit acts behind prophets by comparing their teaching to the teaching of Christ.
If they acknowledge the truth about Christ then they are true-blue prophets.
If they deny Christ, they are false prophets.
So what we need to remember here is that the content of our faith and belief is granted to us by the Holy Spirit.
If we believe the truth about Christ then that belief is not from ourselves, it is from God.
It is the Spirit working in us.
Even though we may not be prophets, the Holy Spirit still works in and through us.
If we speak the truth about God and Christ, then we must have the Holy Spirit in us.
So what does it mean to have the Holy Spirit in us?
It means that we have accepted the truth about Christ
- that he is the Son of God, that he is God himself and a member of the Holy Trinity,
that he came to earth to die and rise again that our sins may be forgiven
and that we may have new life.
The Apostle Paul says in Romans 10.9:
If you confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
So what we have here is a link between our belief and our spiritual state.
When we believe in our heart that Jesus is Lord,
when we believe the truth about Christ,
then we must therefore have the Holy Spirit,
which must therefore mean that we are Christians.
So, let's make a check.
Do you believe that Jesus is God?
Do you believe that he was sent to earth to die for our sins?
Do you believe that when he died on the cross he took the punishment for our sins?
Do you believe that, after being dead and buried, he was raised again by God,
and by so doing gives us the hope of new life?
Do you believe that he will come again one day to take us back to him and then to judge the world for its sins?
Do you trust in Jesus and Jesus alone to clean you from your sins?
Have you accepted Jesus as your King and your saviour?
Is he your boss?
Is he the one who you ultimately serve?
If you've said yes to these things,
then there can be only one possible conclusion
- you are Christian.
And that must mean that you have the Holy Spirit in you.
Which means, according to Romans 10.11,
Anyone who trusts in him will be never be put to shame.
Which means, put simply, you're going to heaven.
And of course if you've said "no" to any of those things then, unfortunately, you cannot be a Christian.
If that is the case then you do not have the Holy Spirit,
and you have the unpleasant prospect of facing Christ on the Judgement day unprepared.
Don't let this opportunity pass you by
- you can know that you are a Christian,
and you can know that you are saved,
but only if you have the Holy Spirit in you.
And the only way to have the Spirit and to be forgiven is to pray to Christ for forgiveness
and to commit your life to serve him.
When this occurs,
God works salvation in you,
and you become Christ's friend.
But too often people put their trust in other things instead of Christ.
Rather than trusting in Christ to forgive them, they rely upon other things to save them.
When this happens you begin to trust in what the devil is teaching.
And this is my second point.
2. We can know we are Christians because we reject the devil and his teachings.
John says in chapter 4 verse 4 that...
you dear children are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
When John says here that his readers have "overcome them", he's referring to those false teachers
- the ones who have the spirit of Antichrist and who do not speak the truth about Christ.
He then goes on to say that the one who is in us
- that is Christ
- is greater than the one who is in the world
- that is the Antichrist.
So true Christians, true believers, reject the devil and his teachings.
Now this may seem like a fairly broad area to be looking at
- after all, how do we recognise the devil and his teachings?
We need to be careful that we don't make the mistake that some Christians have made in rejecting absolutely everything that has nothing to do with our faith.
These Christians are pedantic.
They will argue, for example, that the Bible doesn't mention using pulpits, so we should get rid of them.
The Bible doesn't mention cars, so we shouldn't drive them.
The Bible doesn't talk about voting so we shouldn't vote.
You may have heard of the Amish.
These are Christian folk who have rejected much of modern technology and ways of doing things
not because they are old fashioned,
but because they do not want to associate themselves with the world.
In fact I heard a story recently about the state legislature of Pennsylvania ruling that all Amish horse-drawn carriages be fitted with a reflective device to make them easier to see for other motorists.
Not being lighted, some Amish folk had been killed when their carts were struck by cars as they travelled at night.
Of course the Amish rejected this new law because it would mean some sort of compromise with the world, which they couldn't handle.
So what does rejecting the devil's teaching entail?
The problem is that much of what the devil teaches does not automatically lead to rejecting Christ.
Well let me just focus upon what is important.
The devil wants people to not trust in Christ for their forgiveness.
He wants them to trust in anything else.
But being the devil he's not interested so much in human sacrifices and ouija boards and witches as he is in more wholesome activity.
There are three areas that we need to be careful of.
The first is that the devil wants us to trust in our good works.
Now of course no one would deny how wonderful it is to do good works
- they are great things to do, but they are not what saves us.
If we died tonight and we faced God, what would you trust in to get to heaven?
If you said, "Oh well, God will look at all the good things I've done and balance them out with all the bad things I've done, and if I've done more good than bad I'll get to heaven. And I reckon that I've done more good than bad, so I'm pretty confident I'll get there."
Nowhere in the Bible does it say that this is what God will do.
He will look at what we've done in our lives, yes, but this is simply a matter of showing just how sinful we are.
We don't get to heaven by good works.
In Titus 3.4-6, Paul says
But when the kindness and love of God our saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our saviour.
Good works are great, but we must never listen to the devil and believe that they can do anything for our eternal security.
The second is that the devil wants us to trust in our experience.
This is similar to trusting in good works but is slightly different.
Rather than trusting in something which is actually good (though not able to save),
we instead trust in our personal experiences of God.
This is a trap many of our brothers and sisters in the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches fall into.
Over the years we have seen many fads come and go,
including the Toronto Blessing, signs and wonders, words of knowledge and so on.
Now I can't go into these things in great detail,
but I can say that many Christians in these churches hunger for an immediate and obvious work of the Holy Spirit
- something they experience which can only be attributed to God,
or so they hope.
The problem with this is that the experience itself is no guarantee of faith.
Jesus did say that many would come to him who have healed the sick and raised the dead and Christ would reject them.
And of course the other problem is in whether or not the actual experience is from God or not.
In my limited research into this area, I have come to the conclusion that far too many of our Charismatic and Pentecostal brethren are being led
not by the Holy Spirit,
but by the spirit of Antichrist.
Because they are being told to trust in their experience as proof of faith rather than in the death and resurrection of Christ.
The third is that the devil wants us to trust in the dominant cultural belief.
The other day the people of Bali got together in a Hindu ceremony to help guide the spirits of those who died into the afterlife.
Now from an ordinary person's point of view this was a nice gesture
- and many victim's families went to this ceremony
(their flights paid for by the Indonesian government).
And of course this was reported as a great thing in the media.
But from a Christian point of view this is nonsense.
It wasn't so much a tragedy that these people died in Bali as is the fact that so many died without knowing Christ
- which means of course that they are to face judgement and hell.
A similar thing happened after September 11
- those who died in the World trade Centre were almost canonised as saints.
Now please don't think I'm being in any way insensitive
- September 11 and Bali were horrific events.
But it is the devil's job to confuse us and lead us away from the truth.
And he can do this through tragedy.
We have to face the simple fact that many of those victims of Bali and September 11 died without knowing Christ
- and that means that they are forever lost.
And that is the greatest tragedy of all.
During the First World War Christians in Australia were perplexed at what was going on.
So many young men were dying for their country that some Christians came up with a doctrine that can only be described as "Salvation by Patriotic Martyrdom"
- the idea being that these brave young men who were dying for their country were given automatic entry into heaven.
Now this sort of belief is nonsense too
- in fact is has more to do with Islam than Christianity
- but it was pervasive and influential.
We as Christians need to resist it, even at the point of being unpopular.
The simple and plain fact is that our modern culture is not Christian,
and we should not put our trust in it for our salvation.
What we should put our trust in is the teachings of the Apostles, and that is my third point.
3. We know we are Christians because we accept Apostolic Preaching
Let me just read to you verse 6 of 1 John 4.
We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognise the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
When John says here that "we are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us", he is making a very specific statement.
He is an Apostle.
He is one of the twelve followers of Christ who were with Jesus when he walked the earth.
He called himself "the disciple that Jesus loved".
The Apostles were important people. In Ephesians 2.20
Paul states that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
The idea here is that Christ formed the church
- he is the cornerstone of its construction.
However the apostles and prophets were the foundation upon which the church was built.
The apostles and prophets were the ones who Christ used to begin his church.
So John is saying in this verse that those who hold on to Apostolic teaching
- that is, those who "listen to us" from John's perspective
- are those who are "from God".
If we believe the teachings of the apostles,
then we must be from God
- we are Christians.
If we do not believe what the apostles believe in,
we cannot be from God
- we are not Christians.
There are two important areas that need to be discussed at this point and you can see them there on your outlines.
The first is Doubt and Denial.
The second is The Necessity of Assurance.
Doubt and Denial
Do you ever sit there and wonder if everything you believe is wrong?
Do you ever sit there and think "God may not exist... so why bother with Christianity?".
If you're like me then these doubts occur regularly.
So how can we be a Christian?
Can a Christian remain a Christian and still have doubts?
Of course you can.
Doubt is a normal part of the human experience
- we can never absolutely know anything,
philosophers have proved that point well.
But it doesn't mean our faith is weak or dying.
In fact, having our faith challenged can actually be healthy for us.
But when doubts are never addressed or kept under wraps,
those doubts eventually turn into denial.
And when a person ends up denying the cardinal points of the Christian faith they can no longer be considered Christian
- they were never really a Christian in the first place.
I know a friend of mine from my high school days who had serious doubts about the Christian faith.
They remained unaddressed,
she never had the chance to work through them,
and eventually she turned her back on Christianity.
It's okay to have doubts
- don't worry when you have them.
What you need to worry about is whether those doubts are never examined or looked at,
and whether they are eating up your faith.
Our trust can never be in our works or faith
- we are sinful and in this life we will always find our Christian belief difficult.
We do not have faith in faith,
we have faith in Jesus.
Let's move onto the second area of concern - the necessity of assurance.
The Necessity of Assurance
Why is it important to know our status before God?
Can a person still be a Christian and not have assurance of salvation?
If a person claims to be a Christian,
but has no assurance that they are going to heaven,
are they a true believer?
The answer to that question is both yes and no.
To answer yes to that question
- that they are still Christians
- what we are looking at are Christians who may undergo a temporary crisis of faith.
Under normal circumstances they would have assurance,
but in a specific instance they may lose it.
A few years ago I was at the Katoomba Men's convention and I was rooming with a young man who was one of the leaders of the Christian group at my University.
And we got talking.
A few months previously, the Christian Group had just gone on an evangelistic mission to somewhere
(it may have been in Asia I can't remember).
Anyway, this young man was involved in the mission.
Unfortunately his father had a mental illness that was genetic in nature,
an illness that had been passed on to this young man.
While on this mission, this young man suddenly lost it.
He became suicidal and could no longer believe in Christ.
He was so bad that friends had to step in to help him lest he commit suicide.
Now this was not a normal occurrence
- he had known about his Father's mental illness
but he had experienced nothing until this time.
Eventually he came out of it
- the psychotic episode passed and he was normal again,
and his faith in Christ returned.
Now what would have happened had he committed suicide?
Would he have gone to heaven or hell?
I know where he'd go - heaven.
His loss of faith was not his own doing
but the result of an illness he had no control over.
So any temporary loss of faith is not any problem
- you can still remain a Christian through it.
But there are circumstances where a lack of assurance does indicate a fatal flaw in a person's faith,
and shows that they cannot be a Christian.
This is when people claim to be Christians
but are never sure of their status before God.
And this is not a temporary thing,
it is a permanent condition.
In this case, their faith is not a saving faith.
It is because assurance is an essential part of the Christian faith.
If a person does not have assurance then the only logical conclusion you can come to is that they do not understand the gospel.
They do not understand grace.
They do not understand the means by which God is able to save people.
If we follow the teachings of the Apostles then we can only conclude that Jesus died as a sin sacrifice,
and rose again to bring us new life.
When Jesus came preaching "Repent and believe the good news",
he did so knowing that those who did this would follow him.
Jesus' followers have turned from their sin and have believed the gospel message.
And as a result God has granted them - us - salvation.
It is not through any effort of ourselves
- we can do nothing to please God or erase our sins.
If we have no assurance of salvation, then we must at some point deny God's grace.
A lack of assurance is the result of a denial of the gospel.
This is the great tragedy of the Roman Catholic Church.
There are many within that church who live very religious lives,
and who give generously of their time and money to help people and the church.
But they live a faith that has no assurance.
Committed Roman Catholics believe much that is good
- they believe that Jesus is God,
and they believe that his death was for our sins.
But they do not believe that all their sins have been forgiven,
which means they must continually confess them,
and can never be absolutely sure they are going to heaven.
Now I know for sure that many Roman Catholics are faithful believers and are going to heaven,
but they are not the majority,
and they are not following strict Roman Catholic teaching.
If we believe in the teaching of the Apostles
then must know that our sins are forgiven and we have the assurance of salvation.
Let me conclude.
A Christian is a person who has assurance of salvation.
When you walk out of church today, will you walk out knowing that you have a 100% guarantee of heaven?
And will you walk out knowing that God wants you to have this assurance?
John says three things to us in this passage.
He says firstly that the Holy Spirit guarantees our salvation.
It is this Spirit that has come into us and causes us to believe the truth about Christ.
If we believe the truth about Christ
then the only logical conclusion we can come to is that we have the Holy Spirit
- which means that we are Christian.
He says secondly that those who reject the Devil and his teaching are from God.
If we refuse to trust in anything else but Christ crucified,
then we must be Christians.
"On Christ the solid rock I stand - all other ground is sinking sand".
We do not trust in our religious experience,
nor do we trust in our good works,
or anything to save us.
We only trust in Christ.
He says thirdly that those who follow Apostolic teaching are from God.
If we hold on to the truth of Christ
- the truth that is recorded for us in the New Testament by God's Apostles and Prophets
- then we are Christians.
If we hold to the truth about Christ
and reject the teachings of the devil,
then we can know we have the Holy Spirit,
and know that we are saved.
Our Gracious Heavenly Father,
We look with awe upon your great love and grace that has been given to us in Christ. Thank you for such a perfect and free sacrifice, that we need never to pay for the sins we have committed, nor be ashamed in your presence. Give us strength to deal with doubt, and fill our minds and hearts with your Spirit-written Word, that we may rejoice in our salvation and be spurred on to love each other and you because of it. Amen.
From the Kerygmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.