Certainty Through Experience (2 of 5) Series: Assured: 1 John JD Greear 1 John 1:1-3; 2:20-27; 5:14-15
Introduction Have your Bibles? 1 John. The book of 1 John is all about assurance. John is concerned in this letter to help you identify the signs that the gospel is true and that your experience with God is genuine.
The Epistle of 1 John was written by the Apostle John-one of the disciples closest to Jesus, personally.
Here is the question John returns to over and over again: How do you know that your experience with God is genuine?
Interestingly: Most of the letters in the New Testament have an intended audience, but not 1 John. John wrote it to everybody because everybody has that question.
I told you last week that I have my own book coming out called Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved dealing with these same questions, because I know how many people in our church have these questions. People say, ”I’m not sure I got the ceremony right… still struggle with sin… It actually hasn’t been released yet, but we have advance copies available for you. I also want to explain that to you again that I don’t make any money off of books that are sold here; all money goes right back into the church. I don’t write books to make money off of you. If you get it off Amazon, all bets are off. That helps the Greear kids go to college.
John has about 5 points he makes in this letter about how you can know that you know the real God; but he makes them over and over and weaves them in and out in no particular order. If the Apostle Paul had written this letter it would very orderly and logical-Point 1, point 2, point 3… But John is all over the map. He makes all 5 points every few verses. He’s like, ”Point 1; point 2; part of point 4; back to point 2; now the first part of point 3; more about point 1.” It’s just a jumble of points. Which makes 1 John a little challenging to teach. So what we’ll be doing over the next few weeks is working through the highlights.
Today John shows us how we can CERTAINTY through an EXPERIENCE of FELLOWSHIP with God.
1 John 1:1-3
1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life- the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-
Let’s stop and think about what John is trying to say here: He says that the reason he was sure about what he is teaching is that he and the other Apostles saw Jesus. They observed his miracles. They felt his resurrected body. John is saying, ”This is not a theory to us. We didn’t start believing this stuff because we thought Christianity a superior way to live, or it made the most sense to us; we embraced it because we saw a guy we’d known for 3 years crucified, be buried inside of a tomb and come out 3 days later alive!
It is important to note that the Apostles never attempt to draw their authority from the fact that it is a superior explanation of the world. It may very well be a superior explanation of the world, but they draw their authority from the fact that Jesus was God come down from heaven, verified to them through his miraculous works. The proof of Christianity to them was not in how wise Jesus’ teachings seemed to them, but by the fact he had miracles and the resurrection to back it up. Great example of this: In John’s Gospel John tells the story of a certain Jewish man who had been blind from his birth, which to the Jews was a sign of God’s judgment, and Jesus healed him. Well, when the Jewish religious leaders hear about it later, they confront this man, and they say, ”Hey, there’s no way this guy could have healed you. He is a sinful man who teaches wrong things.” And the formerly blind guy’s response is awesome, ”Whether he is a sinner or not I’ll have to let you philosophers decide. One thing I know: once I was blind; now I see.” (John 9:25, JDV) (that’s kind of a paraphrase from the JDV)
John says, ”We didn’t believe this because it we could explain it all… we believe this because Jesus rose from the dead. We actually saw him. We touched him. We felt the wounds in his body after his resurrection. And in light of his resurrection we decided to doubt our doubts and to trust in Jesus.
BTW, before I move on, John’s statement here also confronts one of the most commonly held assumptions in our culture about religious truth. People treat religion as if it were subjective opinion. I think it was Immanuel Kant, the father of modern philosophy, who said (essentially), ”All religions are subjectively helpful; they are not objectively true.” Do you know the difference in subjective/objective truth? ”I’m warm”; vs. ”Albany is the capital of NY.” Our world wants to put Christianity in the realm of the subjective. Ellen wants truth to be subjective… ”It’s good for you; your preference.” But John said, ”There was nothing subjective about the resurrection of Jesus. We actually touched him. And in light of his resurrection we had to doubt our doubts.” Those of you who are skeptical: are you skeptical enough about yourself to doubt your doubts?
TRANSITION: You say, ‘Well, John got to see Jesus and touch him… what good does that do for me?” So glad you asked.
Look at vs. 3:  that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
Fellowship = Koinonia. John wants us to have the same experiential knowledge with God he had. But how, you say? Obviously, we haven’t seen and touched him. The answer is in vs. 2. The Jesus that John touched and the miracles John observed were a manifestation of the life of God-a life that you can share in. The miracles Jesus did were signs that pointed to a much greater reality. The miracles were real, and actual, but they pointed beyond themselves to things that were true about God-and these higher realities are things we can experience every bit as much as John did. Write this down: The miracles Jesus did point to a much higher reality, a reality in which we can share: life in God. For example: In John 6 Jesus multiplied bread and fed 5000. But he explained that this was a sign of God’s power to satisfy-he was the bread of life-and that those who come to him, truly, will find a soul satisfaction in him. Knowing him feels like a starving man sitting down to a 7--course meal. Have you felt that? It’s a proof to you that God is real. St. Augustine: our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you. In John 4 a woman meets Jesus and discovers that he knows everything about her-all of her dirty, dark secrets-he tells her a bunch of things he’d have no way of knowing. But he loves her anyway. Have you ever had that sense of the love of God pressing in on your soul? The sense that God knows everything about you and loves you anyway? In Mark 4 Jesus is out on the sea with his disciples and a terrible storm is raging all around them and they are terrified and they wake him up and say, ”Don’t you care that we are going to perish?” And Jesus stands up and says, ”Peace be still!” Has that ever happened to you? Either Jesus has actually stilled the storm in your life, or, even better, given you peace in the storm by showing you that it was all under his control? In Matthew 9 (vs. 20), a woman came up to Jesus. This woman had had a menstrual flow of blood for 12 years, which made her unclean, which meant no one would touch her-she was unlovable. Jesus calls her the tenderest term, ”daughter,” and her soul feels with an awareness of the love of God for her. It may not have happened that way for you, but have you heard that in your soul. You are my child! In Mark 8 (vs. 24), Jesus heals a blind guy in 2 stages. In the first stage, he says, ”Well, it’s a little blurry. I see men walking around like they are trees.” Then Jesus touches him again. Why? Were his batteries low the first time? Did he shoot a brick? No, he was giving you a picture of how he clears up your spiritual vision. When he first comes into your life you see some basic spiritual truth, but the longer you walk with him, he explains more and more of the world to you. Has that happened to you? It’s happening to me.
Are you getting the point? Have these things ever happened with you? ”Koinonia” is an experiential word. As you experience these things, you gain greater confirmation that this is all true. Christianity is very much a ”taste and see” religion.
Now, I want to clarify: The proof of Christianity does not rest entirely your experience. Some Christians talk this way… ”Oh… Christianity is true, I just feel it; no one can argue with my experience.” Sure they can. Lots of people feel like that about their religion. Mormons-burning in their belly. Muslims-they all say that. So your experiences don’t prove Christianity, but they do validate what the Bible teaches.
(TRANSITION): Christianity is an experienced, felt religion in which you interact with an actual God. This theme reappears in a different form in 1 John 2, so let’s go there.
1 John 2:20-27
1 John 2:20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge…  Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.  But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you.
This might be a little confusing, but here’s what he’s saying: The Spirit of God gives you an innate sense of God in which the truth about Jesus just makes sense to you. You don’t need a teacher… not saying that I shouldn’t have a job, but that you have an anointing that just makes it make sense.
It’s what John Calvin called a ”sensus divinitatis”: a sense of God. And it works like your other senses. When your other senses tell you something, why do you believe them? Because you can logically prove what they are telling you is true? No.
Jesus said it this way in one of John’s other books: ”My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27). People say to me, ”Why do you believe in God?” And I want to say, ”Well, don’t you hear his voice?” Don’t you see the evidence? It’s right there.” When God appeared to Paul it says that the other people on the road with Paul saw the blinding light but couldn’t make out the voice speaking to Paul. That’s what conversion is like; you gain new ears to hear a voice that has been speaking all along.
You say, ”But what about people who say they can’t sense God?” The Apostle Paul explains in the book of Romans that one of the results of the fall was that our ability to perceive God got all messed up. God created us with an innate ability to perceive him, but sin darkened and dulled that. So now we need the Spirit of God to give us back our eyes. It’s a process called ”regeneration.” It’s the restoration, the regeneration, of an old, lost sense. That’s why Jesus said: ”Let him who has eyes to see, see and ears to hear, hear.” To understand the truth about Jesus, the Spirit gives you new eyes; new ears to hear; a new heart. And by the way, the restoration of that sense is grace. God doesn’t owe it to anyone. You can’t do it on your own. People act like they are doing God a favor for believing in him. He’s doing you a favor in letting you see him.
So, what John is saying here is that One of the signs that you really know God is you have fellowship (koinonia) with him through the Spirit.
God begins to come alive to you. He speaks to you. Please note: I am not talking here about God speaking new information into your heart. If you’re new to church, have you had the experience of talking to a Christian who claims to hear from God? ”God told me you are supposed to loan me $1000.” ”God told me we should get married.” Woman to us: John Piper appeared to me in a dream. What, is that the Ghost of Reformed Theology past? Christians say that goofy stuff all the time. That’s not what we are talking about.
Do you see in vs. 3, John says that the ”word of life was made manifest”? Manifestation means, ”magnification” or ”coming alive.”
In John’s day there was a movement called ”Gnosticism” where people felt like they had this inward knowledge of God. Similar to the New Age movement. You know God by finding him within. John is not talking about that. It’s not sensing the Spirit within, it’s the Spirit magnifying the word of life. Like the lights on the Washington monument. (- Never things that contradict Scripture.) And it’s certainly not some new illumination that contradicts Scripture I’m still blown away by people telling me things God told them that contradict the Bible: (”God told me to leave my wife.”) Want to make my job hard and depress me? Say stuff like that. ”Well, I had a peace about it.” I always say: Well, Satan’s goal in the Garden of Eden was to give them peace about disobeying God and damning the human race-so what does your peace prove?
A genuine experience with God (fellowship, koinonia) is the manifestation (or magnification) of the word of the gospel in your heart. You begin to feel the ”word of life.” One of you is seeing an image; the other a morass of dots. How many of you have ever faked it? ”Oh yeah, it’s the Statue of Liberty!” When the Spirit of God makes the gospel real to you, it comes alive; it takes on depth. Or the Puritan Thomas Goodwin said it was like a married couple walking along, when suddenly the husband sweeps his girl up in his arms and kisses her and tells her he loves her. They were no less married before he did that, but her sense of his love is more real and felt at that moment. This ”manifestation” happens first at conversion…: I love how John Wesley, one of our country’s most famous evangelists, talks about his conversion by sayhing that he went to a church meeting on Aldersgate Street where the pastor was reading Luther’s introduction to the book of Romans: ”At about a quarter past 9… as (the pastor read Luther describing) the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. (I saw that Christ) had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”1 For you parents, this is what I am looking for in my kids. I want to see the gospel go 3--D for them; for it to be personal. That shows me the HS is at work in them. So, this manifestation happens first at conversion… but it happens again and again for the rest of your life. There are times when God’s love just presses in on you. Example: In Ephesians 3 Paul prays that the Ephesians would ”grasp the height and width and depth of God’s love” for them… (Eph 3:18)
The cross becomes larger. Your sin gets more real. God’s grace gets sweeter. The ”old” words of life press in on your heart and they become new to you. Like one of those magic eye pictures… if you’re standing with someone who can’t see it; you’re looking at the
The word for grasp is ”katalambano.” That’s a military word that means literally to ”sieze,” or ”overtake,” as in overtake a fortress and knock the walls down.2 He’s praying that the knowledge of the love of God would attack their heart and penetrate it. Does that ever happen to you? It just becomes so real you can touch it? Example: An old British professor of philosophy who became a Christian wrote this to a friend: ”Every week and sometimes almost every day now a pressure of his great love comes down upon my heart in such measure as to make my whole being groan beneath 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 inner (places in my soul have) been touched and its flintiness has been melted in the presence of love divine, all loves excelling. Jesus has become the one altogether lovely to me.”
That is the point of Christianity. God did not create you as a database (to learn stuff) or a robot to just act a certain way. He created you for fellowship. If it’s not, then you might not be a Christian?
Now, one word of caution: don’t compare your experience to someone else’s. Some of you are more emotional than others. I’m not saying your life needs to be screenplay of Les Mis or you wake up strumming Chris Tomlin tunes on the harp… But it’s real, and it is koinonia with God, and if it it’s not happening, you have reason to doubt whether or not you are actually saved.
One last passage…
1 John 5:14-15 1 John 5:14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. He says that when you know God, God answers your prayers. You can see the evidence of God in your life. Does this ever happen to you? Can you look around and see it? Of course, we all experience unanswered prayer, or at least prayers that are not answered in the way we would like, and when that happens the Holy Spirit gives you a confidence that God’s love is greater than the request. There have been times I’ve been frustrated or confused but the words to Psalm 23 come alive in my heart, ”I am your shepherd.” Sometimes I overrule your request because I know more than you and give you would have asked for if you knew what I knew.
Do you have fellowship with God? If not… you have reason to doubt, because…
Listen: Fellowship is the point of Christianity. God did not create you just to memorize doctrines and master spiritual disciplines. He created you to love, to walk with you. Aren’t you tired of boring Christianity? Aren’t you tired of tired doctrines and imitating righteous behavior? There is more life in glimpse of the glory of God than in all the glories of the world! Yearn for it; seek it. It’s offered to you. It’s what you were created for! To know God.
Transition: So, this leads me to a very practical question. Where can you find experiences like this? Just sit around and wait on them?
How can I experience moments of ‘fellowship’ with God?
Put yourself in the presence of his Word
John ties the activity of God to the Word. So if you want God to manifest himself to you-don’t get alone with yourself and listen to your heart. That’s a pit of poison. ”I’m gonna go out in the woods.” God doesn’t live in the woods… If you go out in the woods, take your Bible with you. You have to put yourself in a place where you are hearing the Word. If you’re not yet a believer… my challenge to you is to put yourself under the preaching of the Word. Do you want to have an experience like John Wesley? Put yourself under the word like he did. Maybe it’s just a curiosity at this point. Come back, and just listen. Taste and see! If you’re a Christian and you are trying to get a friend of yours to see the truth, get them in the presence of the word! Martin Luther said: ”The Bible is like a caged lion; if someone doesn’t believe the lion is real, don’t stand there and defend the lion verbally; open the cage.” Bring them here: do ”taste and see.” Paul says in Romans: ”Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Only when you put the Word of life in someone’s view can faith spring up. When I served overseas… the strategy was to get the word of God into their hands. That should be our strategy. If you are a believer, you need to put yourself in the presence of the Word. God cannot manifest in your heart the Word of Life until you are in the presence of it. Do a ‘quiet time.’ (One of the worst things we’ve ever named in Christianity-like God is mad at you and puts you in the corner and tells you to shut up). Every day you should spend time with God. 30 minutes (how I do it).
Memorize Scripture. God presses into my mind the Scripture. Why AWANA. People criticize: they learn it for the wrong reasons. I don’t care why they learn it. 15 years from now it will harvest.
When I became a Christian it was like grace came alive to me and all these things I had learned suddenly MANIFESTED themselves to me. Pray the Scriptures back to God. I do this as first part of my quiet time-pray back what I’ve circled. I associate verses with people. I want verses associated with people because that’s how I know the mind of God for them. If you hear me pray, I want 60% of what I say to be Scripture. (Did you notice in 1 John 5:14-15, ”If we ask anything according to his will he hears us…” They key to answered prayer is praying prayers according to the will of God? Where do you know the will of God? The Word of God.) Get in a small group Small groups at this church are groups small enough where people can actually be the body of Christ to each other. When God wants to speak, he uses his body! Body: analogy. If the hand is off over there, then the brain can’t get this hand to it. If you’re not connected to the body, God can’t work in your life or family! The Holy Spirit appears 59 times in the book of Acts; 36 of those he is speaking to one another. Get in one today! Become an expert at applying the Scriptures to deep and broken parts of life. counseling seminars.
Pray for it The thing you most need is a greater sense of the things you already know.
So pray, like Paul did for the Ephesians that God would open your eyes to see and feel the weight of his glory. Not new things they needed to learn. He didn’t say, ”God loves you” and they were like, ”Oh, write that down.” But they needed a greater grasp of it. If you say, ”I know Jesus loves me and died for me,” but someone’s offense against you is so large you can’t forgive them; then that thing has kabod but Jesus is ”light.” If you’re devastated at being single during this chapter in your life, it’s because marriage is heavy and Jesus is ”light.” Marriage has the glory Jesus should have. If you’re devastated by some tragedy and can’t have joy, it’s because the affliction is heavy and Jesus is light. Paul, who had experienced considerable pain and loss, called all his troubles this ”light and momentary affliction” because of the surpassing ”weight” of glory.
Sometimes you just obey. When you don’t feel it, you just obey, and the feelings come later. Feelings of intimacy are often facilitated by long stretches of obedience. Like relationship with my wife… times of sterile relationship, but the intimacy of 60 years of faithfulness is better than a quick adulterous fling
Invitation Do you know him? You can start today. It starts with the gospel-believe it, and God will come into you. As a believer, ask God to open your eyes to the weightiness of God’s love. THEN you’ll be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph 3:20)