One of the most quoted Bible verses is "Judge not, lest ye be judged".
This phrase is known by virtually every person who has had some contact with Christianity,
and, ironically, it has been used against those within the Church
who have chosen to criticise something or other.
Unfortunately anyone who studies the Bible will realise that this verse,
which is Matthew 7.1,
cannot be taken in isolation.
If the verse were literally true
and not understood in the context of scripture,
then Jesus would have been a hypocrite,
because he was highly critical of the Jewish religious leaders,
those who profited from worship in the temple,
as well as followers of other religions.
The fact is that if we are to be followers of Christ
then we have to reject the teaching of the world when it comes into conflict with Christ's teaching.
We have to be faithful to God and his Spirit-inspired word, regardless of what happens to us.
Some Christians, however, can be too judgemental.
We cannot exclude people from the body of Christ that God does not exclude.
There are many Christian groups that do this.
One group of Christians that have been guilty of this is a group that only accepts the King James Version Bible as the true and inspired word of God.
This version, written in 1611, was a masterpiece of English literature and renaissance scholarship,
but has been superceeded by Bible versions that use more contemporary English
and have access to more accurate ancient texts to translate from.
These versions include, by the way, the New International Version on your laps.
This group - the "King James only" group - is not one particular movement
and people who are in this group can be found all over the place and in many different churches
- sometimes even in Churches that do not use the King James Bible.
What is so wrong with the King James Bible?
The problem is that when it was written in 1611, the translators only had certain ancient Greek and Hebrew texts to translate from.
As time passed and other more ancient texts were unearthed by archaeology,
it was discovered that the original translators had used texts with some glaring errors.
Faced with this fact, new Bible translations were made to correct these errors because people wanted to be true to God's word.
Perhaps the most glaring error can be found in the passage we have read today.
In verses 7 and 8, the King James Bible says the following:
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
You can see there that verse 7 in the King James contains a section which talks about the Father, the Word (ie Jesus) and the Holy Spirit being one.
It is a verse that many Christians have used to back up the doctrine of the Trinity.
Unfortunately it appears as though some guy about 1200 years ago had added those words to verse 7,
and his particular copy became more popular than others.
The problem with the "King James only" group isn't so much that they hold onto a modified and corrupted version of God's Word,
but that there are some in the group who openly deny the salvation of anyone who uses any other Bible translation.
Thus a person's salvation is not dependent upon faith or upon Christ,
but upon trusting the King James Bible only and not reading any other translation.
To exclude people on this basis is not only silly,
it actually shows that many in this group don't even understand salvation.
The fact is that we as Christians will always come into contact with the teachings and beliefs of the world around us
- a world that is sinful and ignorant of God.
We are to hold onto the teachings of Christ firmly and resist the devil.
One of the central pillars of our faith is our understanding of who Jesus is and what he did for us on the cross.
The biblical witness tells us that Jesus is none other than God in human form
- 100% God and 100% human
- and that he died on the cross as an atonement for our sins.
But our sins cannot be forgiven until we have placed our faith in Christ's atoning death and have submitted to his rule.
I have three points that I want to examine from the passage we're looking at.
The first point concerns the content of our faith - the idea being that the faith that God has given us is simple but not stupid.
The second point concerns the Spirit of faith - the role of the Holy Spirit in giving us saving faith and knowledge.
The third point concerns the Result of faith - the idea that the faith that God has given us leads to eternal life.
1. The content of Faith.
Let me read to you verses 6-8 again.
This is the one who came by water and blood - Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood: and the three are in agreement.
Now if you're confused about what all that means then you're not alone.
Those involved in Biblical research have found these verse difficult to explain.
I won't tell you all the ins and outs and different theories about what is being said here,
but I will tell you what is the best and logical and simple explanation.
We have to remember that John writes poetically.
He rarely comes out and calls a spade a spade,
but when we look below the surface we find that he says a lot of very complex and important things in only a few words.
When he says here that Jesus Christ came by water and blood, he is referring to the work of Jesus.
The phrase "by water" is commonly used in the New Testament to refer to Baptism,
so we see here that Jesus' ministry involved baptism.
The phrase "by blood" refers to the death of Jesus on the cross.
"Blood" is used in chapter one verse seven
- the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.
So what we have here is a simple explanation of Jesus' ministry. He came by water
- that is he came to baptise people as a symbol of their faith
- and he came by blood
- he died on the cross to purify us from our sins.
Now the reason why John seems to be convoluted and repetitive is that he attacking these false teachers.
"He did not come by water only, but by water and blood" he says in verse 6.
Why? He is saying it because the false teachers,
while correct in their belief that Jesus came baptising,
were incorrect in their view of Jesus' death.
Specifically, these false teachers did not see Jesus as a human being,
so he did not really shed human blood and die on the cross.
The identity of Jesus was a very important concept in the first millennium of the church's existence.
Councils were formed and met,
books were written and defended,
churches and pastors were expelled or brought back in.
We may not understand this, but the first 1000 years of the Christian church was spent in trying to find out who Jesus was and what he was doing on earth.
Alongside this was also the Trinity, since the church had decided that Jesus was God.
The result of these endless councils and controversies was the eventual conclusion that Jesus was 100% God and 100% man.
He was not 50% God and 50% man;
he was not 100% God and 0% man (the idea that Jesus looked like a man but was in fact an illusion);
and he was not simply some mask that the one God used to pretend to be someone.
We can see this in the length and depth of the three most important creeds in the Christian church.
The Apostle's creed, as you know, is short and sweet.
It developed probably in the 2nd century as a baptismal confession made by new believers.
The Nicene Creed was developed in the 4th century and contains probably twice as many words as the Apostle's creed.
It is also slightly confusing, saying things like
"God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father"
and so on.
In the mid 5th century the Creed of Saint Athanasius was written - not by Athanasius himself but by one of his followers.
This creed is probably ten times the size of the Apostle's creed and is rarely, if ever, recited in the modern church.
Notice how each creed expanded in size as time went by?
That was because the church had been working very hard to define and redefine who the Trinity was,
and especially the person of Jesus.
Now what these creeds did was to ultimately summarise the Bible's teaching.
They were never intended to be authoritative in and of themselves.
Just listen to the opening line of the Creed of Saint Athanasius.
Whoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick faith. Whose faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholick faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity.
What this creed is basically saying here is this
- you cannot be saved unless you are a Christian.
And if you are a Christian then you believe in the Trinity.
And if you believe in the Trinity, then you must therefore believe that Jesus is 100% God and 100% man.
All of these points can be backed up in Scripture,
and the verses we are looking at today are some of those points.
The problem with all these creeds and confessions and catechisms is that they appear to make the Christian faith complex and unknowable.
These creeds were not designed to be authoritative in and of themselves.
They were designed to summarise the Bible's teaching on important matters.
The fact is, however, that all they do is expand and explain in detail the simple truths we believe in.
What is more simple than to believe that Jesus is God and that he died on the cross for our sins?
Faith must have content.
Faith by itself cannot save anyone.
It is not the presence of faith or the strength of faith that saves people.
It is what that faith is in.
Faith must have an object.
You must have faith IN something.
When we talk about saving faith, we talk about the faith we have in Christ to save us.
It doesn't matter how strong or weak that faith is, s
o long as that faith is IN Christ.
As Christians we have faith in Christ.
We trust in him as God,
and we trust in his physical death upon the cross as an atoning sacrifice for our sins,
that whoever places their faith and trust in Christ is purified from all sins, and is forgiven.
This is simple faith.
This is what we believe in as Christians.
2. The Spirit of Faith
The second point I want to make today concerns the Spirit of Faith
- the work of the Holy Spirit in connection to our faith.
Let me read again verses 6 to 10
This is the one who came by water and blood - Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood: and the three are in agreement. We accept man's testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.
So what we see here is that the Holy Spirit "testifies" to the truth.
What does it mean when John says in verses 6-8
"And it is the Spirit who testifies because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement"?
Testimony is the same word as witness.
It reminds us of a person who stands up in court and gives the testimony about something.
The word is the same as "martyr",
but it is not referring here to those people who died for their faith.
Imagine you're in a court of law and a person gives their testimony about something
- and what they say is considered true and believable because of who they are.
They are an expert witness, and the court will believe anything they say.
What are the three things that John says here are testimonies?
The Spirit, the water and the blood.
In other words, what testifies to true Christian belief is the Spirit,
the work of Christ in bringing people to faith
and the work of Christ in dying for our sins on the cross.
These things are not separate,
they are linked
- they are "in agreement" as John says.
What we need to understand is that those people who hold to the belief that Jesus came by water and blood
are also people who have the Holy Spirit in them.
Jesus came to bring people to faith
- that is the symbol of baptism and water that John is talking about.
Jesus came to die for the sins of the world when he died on the cross
- that is the symbol of blood he talks about.
And John says in verse 10 that anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.
This means that anyone who believes that Jesus came by water and blood
- that he brings us to faith and acts to forgive our sins
- then such a person has the Holy Spirit living in them as a testimony to this fact.
Have you ever run into Anthony Robbins on television?
Robbins is an American success coach.
By going to his workshops,
reading his books,
listening to his CDs
and watching his infomercials
people supposedly have their lives changed.
The process goes like this.
Robbins believes that everyone can do anything they set their minds to,
if only they believe in it strong enough.
Robbins says that by convincing yourself to be positive and enthusiastic and capable of doing anything,
you then are able to achieve any goal you set for yourself.
Instead of saying, for example, that having a new car will make me happy,
he is saying that being happy will make you get that new car.
Instead of saying that a close, satisfying relationship will lead to happiness,
Robbins says that happiness will lead to a close and satisfying relationship.
It appears as though Robbins is putting the cart before the horse.
Rather than cause and effect, he seems to be talking about effect and cause.
Having a faith and a trust in Christ and in his atoning death does not lead to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
It is the other way around.
The Holy Spirit acts within us and causes us to naturally respond in faith and belief in Christ.
This might seem the wrong way around,
but it is what the Bible teaches.
The Holy Spirit is the cause,
our repentance and faith is the effect.
This is how the doctrine of Predestination and election works
- God acts first to save us and our response is secondary.
How do we know if we are a Christian?
How can we know if we are saved?
These are not dumb questions - they are very important.
Some Christians focus upon works
- if we are truly Christians then it will show in the way we live our lives.
Now while there is a grain of truth in this idea, it falls over because, ultimately, we are relying upon what we do as the basis of our salvation.
What we should focus on is our faith.
Do we trust in the death of the Lord Jesus?
Do we believe that his death atoned for our sins,
purifying us and ultimately being the way God acts to forgive our sins?
Do we trust that Jesus' resurrection brings us new life?
If we do then the only thing we can conclude is that we are Christians.
And if we are Christians then we have the Holy Spirit living in us.
John teaches us this truth about the Holy Spirit because the false teachers he speaks about
- the antichrists or heretics if you like
- claimed to be speaking from God and the Holy Spirit.
In Chapter 4 of 1 John, he concludes that these false teachers have the Spirit of the devil in them rather than the Spirit of God.
One more thing to remember.
When the Holy Spirit enters us we have no choice but to repent and trust in the death of Christ.
This idea may seem strange but it fits in with the idea that God is the one who saves us, rather than we acting to save ourselves.
In Ephesians 1.3, Paul says that God has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
This means that once we become a Christian we have all the blessings of the Holy Spirit upon us.
We do not need a subsequent "Baptism in the Spirit" in order to make our lives more Godly.
This is the error of many in the Pentecostal churches and in those influenced by Wesleyan theology.
We have the Holy Spirit now if we have faith in Christ.
3. The Result of Faith
The final point I want to make today is the result of our faith.
Let me read to you again verses 10-12:
Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
What was the point of God sending Jesus to act as the means by which our sins are forgiven if there was nothing to look forward to in our lives?
If our existence was simply limited to this world,
then have nothing but despair
- even if our sins were forgiven by God.
The fact is that when God created Adam and Eve his intention was immortality
- a never ending life in a perfect world.
God's intention remains the same
- through Christ's death on the cross we have the promise of eternal life.
What does this mean?
It means that despite the suffering we undergo,
and despite the inevitable fact that our bodies will continue to age and eventually die, we have hope.
The Bible is full of overwhelmingly positive images of the future for God's people.
Once Jesus has returned to judge the earth, he takes all of those who are his and lives with them for eternity in paradise.
All Christians have this hope
- a hope that will inevitably occur and cannot be prevented from occurring.
Jesus will return again one day,
and we who are his children will live with him in paradise forever.
Over the years people have theorised over what happens to us when we die and before Christ returns.
Some believe in "Soul Sleep"
- the idea that we die and immediately wake up on the day of resurrection.
It's an interesting theory,
but one that has no Biblical back-up.
There's lots of other theories including becoming ghosts or angels,
but they are even more ridiculous.
If a Christian dies before Christ returns
- which is likely
- then while their physical body decays to dust or ashes,
their spirit goes to be with Christ in paradise.
This is the promise that Jesus gave to the thief on the cross next to him.
While in this heavenly paradise, we wait until Christ returns to earth.
On that day we will gain our physical bodies once more and live in an earthly paradise forever.
This promise given to us is not the natural result of our obedience.
It is not some reward God gives us for doing the right thing.
It is part of the salvation we have received.
The fact that we have been saved is God's grace -
we didn't deserve it.
Eternal life is not something we deserve,
it is something that we have been given freely by a loving God.
I can't give you all the details about what heaven and eternal life are like.
All we can know is that it is good,
and that it is infinitely better than this place.
There will be no sin, no suffering, no evil, no death, no sorrow.
In 2004 I turn 35.
Do you remember being 35?
Am I "over the hill" yet?
Or does that happen when you turn 40?
If you were given the chance, would you go back to being 35?
I'm not talking about time-travel here,
but some magical reversal of ageing.
Would you do it?
I bet you would.
You'd probably prefer 21 but 35 is a good consolation prize isn't it?
In fact 45 would be a good consolation prize too!
I hate this world.
I hate its sin.
I hate the corruption I see in politics and society.
I hate the suffering caused by war and indifference.
I hate it when people deliberately hurt me and make my life difficult.
I hate having to work and getting paid barely enough to keep my family alive and out of debt.
And as the years go by I will begin to experience all the hates that many of you have.
Don't you hate it when people close to you die?
Don't you hate it when you can't look after yourself as well as you used to?
Don't you hate it when you are ignored?
Don't you hate it when your suffering becomes chronic and long term?
Being a Christian will not remove any of those sufferings in this life.
But if we belong to God then we have something to look forward to
- something that we know is good and wonderful.
Our world is doomed.
When Christ returns it will be destroyed and the devil and all his angels as well.
But John tells us in these verses that most people will be judged and not saved.
"He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life".
John wrote a similar statement in his Gospel - John 3.36.
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."
Heaven and the hope of Eternal life is only promised to those who trust in Jesus
- John is very clear about this in these verses.
Christians go to heaven.
Non-Christians do not go to heaven,
which, of course, implies death, judgement and hell.
There are only two possibilities that face you today.
You are either headed to heaven or you are headed to hell.
I'm not going to apologise for this fact because all I'm doing is telling you what the Bible says.
How do you know if you are going to heaven?
If you have placed your trust in Jesus to forgive you of your sins through his death on the cross
and have accepted him as your Lord,
then you must have the Holy Spirit,
which means you are a Christian,
which means you have the promise of eternal life - heaven.
How do you know if you're going to hell?
Well, what do you put your trust in to forgive you of your sins?
Do you believe that God will somehow look at your sins and balance them out with your good deeds and then say
"well, I'll let him into heaven because he's done more good than bad"?
Do you believe that God is a God of love and will accept you no matter what evil you have done?
I'm sorry but that doesn't cut it.
If your trust is not in Christ,
if it is not in his death for our sins,
if it is not in his resurrection to bring us new life,
then your sins remain unforgiven.
You do not have the Son of God.
You do not have life.
I met a really nice lady a couple of months ago (September 2003).
She was a Catholic woman who was also involved in the charismatic movement within that church.
She was a loving person,
she was enthusiastic about serving God and she wanted to reach out to others to show them the love of God.
However I did spend some time asking her about what she put her trust in.
I asked her that diagnostic question developed by the Evangelism Explosion group
- "If you died tonight and you stood before God and he asked you 'why should I let you into heaven', what would you say?".
In the end, this lovely woman told me that she was ultimately responsible for cleaning away her own sins,
and that while Christ died for us, we still had the responsibility to make ourselves pure and acceptable before God.
In other words, her trust was in her own works.
What a tragedy
- this woman didn't realise that she was not a Christian,
and was still headed to hell.
All who have true faith and eternal life believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.
Although this is simple,
it is life-changing.
All true believers accept that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, as a substitute
so that he could suffer God's anger and wrath,
so that we could be forgiven through him.
All true believers trust entirely in the death of Jesus for their salvation rather than in anything they do.
All true believers have the Holy Spirit in them,
for no one who has faith in Christ can do so without the prior work of the Holy Spirit in them to bring them to that point.
All true believers have the hope of heaven and eternal life,
not as anything they deserve or as a reward for serving God,
but as a free and wonderful gift of grace from the God of the universe.
Heavenly Father, you are the creator of us all. We are all parts of your creation and it is our duty and responsibility to serve you. But we have sinned. We have turned away from your rule. We have rejected you as King through our indifference and through our arrogance. We have decided to run your world our way. We know, Lord, that we cannot escape your perfect knowledge - and that you know our sin more than we do. Father, please forgive us. We are sorry for our sins. We do not wish to keep rebelling - we want to be forgiven and we want to have new life. We ask that your Spirit come into our lives and transform us from death to life. We trust in nothing but the death and resurrection of your son for our forgiveness. We take away our own pride and arrogance, and we bow down before you in brokenness and awe, pledging our service to you forever. Come into our lives and change us, through the work of the Holy Spirit. Clean us from our sins through the work of Christ. Give us the assurance that nothing can take us away from your love, and give us perseverance to remain with you until the day we meet you face to face and call you Father. 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.