Have you ever experienced that horrible feeling that you might have taken the wrong train?!
Maybe you were in a foreign country – or maybe it was somewhere in the UK – you were running late – you arrived at the platform in a rush – and you jumped on the train just before the doors closed… and then you had this sinking feeling that you might not actually be on the right train!
It's an awful feeling. I've been there! …but have you ever had the sinking feeling that you might be wrong about what you believe?
You think of the friendly Muslim family who lives down the road from you. You see Jehovah's Witnesses handing out tracts in town which talk about 'God' and contain Bible verses. You watch videos from vibrant churches which promise extra blessing from God. Perhaps over the summer some of you students will meet up with Christian friends back home who used to be on the same page theologically who have now gone in a different direction and now tell you you're missing out.
Have you got on the wrong train? Have I got on the wrong train? Is JPC on the wrong train?
That's how the readers of 1 John felt!
You see, they had believed John's message about Jesus…But then they met some teachers who had worked alongside John, but then separated from him and started teaching a different message about Jesus…These false teachers were telling the readers of 1 John: 'We know God. We have victory over evil. Come with us! You're on the wrong train!' These Christians had a sinking feeling that maybe they were: 'Maybe we have got it wrong. These teachers are impressive. People listen to them. Maybe we should change trains.'
John writes 1 John to say to them loud and clear: 'Stay with the message we taught you! Don't be deceived! If you have really believed in Jesus, you really do have eternal life. You're on the right train!'
And in 1 John 2:12-14 it's almost as if John has put down his pen for a moment. He has stopped his penetrating analysis of the difference between real faith in Jesus and counterfeit faith in Jesus. And he now put two hands on their shoulders. And he is pleading with them: 'Please keep trusting the message I taught you! Please don't listen to these false teachers! Please be reassured that you really are Christian already!'
Before we pray, here are two questions which buzzed around my mind as I was preparing: they may distract you if I don't address them, so I'll do so! Firstly, you'll notice that John addresses three groups of people in verses 12 to 14: little children, fathers and young men. Who are these different groups?
"Little children" is John's way of addressing the whole church family (e.g. 2:1). "Fathers" is his way of addressing older or spiritually mature believers. "Young men" is his way of addressing younger believers.
But basically all that John says in verses 12 to 14 applies to all Christians – whether young or old – and male or female – that will be my approach.
Secondly, you'll notice that John addresses the dear children, fathers and young men in two cycles, which are almost word for word repeats. Why does John repeat himself? It's for the same reason that we would repeat ourselves when we're pleading with someone – we really want the message to sink in. John really wants to reassure these Christians deeply that they are Christian. He wants them to know – believe it – and feel it in their bones.
Let's pray this for us. Father, if we really have believed in the real Jesus, please may we feel it in our bones this evening. In Jesus' name, Amen.
1. Your Sins Really Are Forgiven (v.12)
John's first point to his readers is this. Your sins really are forgiven (v.12)
"I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake."
"Sins" are everything we do, think, or say… our way not God's way. Harsh words. Overlooking other people's needs. Not forgiving someone. It's natural to us. Yet every time we sin, we say to God: "Get lost! I know better!"
And our sins deserve God's anger. Just as no court should let a guilty criminal go free, so God will not ignore our sins. He is just. He must punish. But the extraordinarily good news is that our sins can be forgiven. God's anger against our sin can be diverted. Our spiritual debt to God which is piling up every day as high as the sky, can be removed once and for all. How? John says it's on account of his name – on account of Jesus. If we're Christian, God forgives us because of Jesus and more specifically because of what Jesus did for us on the Cross in our place as a sacrifice.
1 John 2:2 says that Jesus: is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. This is wonderful news, but lots of people won't see it.
Muslim believers won't accept that Jesus died physically on the Cross. Their hope in securing Allah's forgiveness is to do enough religious works to outweigh their sin. But it won't work. There's only one way for sins to be forgiven – Jesus dying on the Cross as our substitute.
Liberal church leaders talk a lot about 'forgiveness' and the 'love of God', but refuse to accept that the source of our forgiveness is Jesus' death on the Cross for us – and it's also the supreme proof of the love of God.
As John says later in 4:10:
"In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."
If you're inwardly kicking against what I've just been saying, hear me out! The reason why Christians care about Jesus dying on the Cross for our sins is that this is the only way anyone can have relationship with God.
The reason why we are dogmatic on this issue is not because we want to be annoying and confrontational, but because we want all people to enjoy with us the privileges of real relationship with the real God through Jesus Christ.
John was dogmatic on this issue too because he really wanted to reassure his readers that their sins were forgiven. It's same for us today: if we're real Christians we'll look to the Cross for that assurance.
That's my first point. Your sins really are forgiven.
2. You Really Do Know God (v.13a, v.13c, 14a)
John's second point is this. You really know God (v.13-14). He writes in v.13a and v.14b:
"I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning."
Who is him who is from the beginning?
Look at 1 John 1:1.
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands…"
It's Jesus! John has heard him, seen him, touched him and now writes about him.
John also says in 2:14:
"I write to you, children, because you know the Father."
And in 1 John 4:13, we see that we have God the Spirit too. So we know God the Trinity – the relational God who wants us to know him.
But there's a big difference between knowing about God and knowing God!
When I was at university, there was one student in my year who was the son of a prominent politician. I knew about his father. I could read newspaper reports about him. I could see pictures online. I might see him in the street. But I didn't know him at all. He was just a politician to me. But this student knew his father. They had shared memories. They could go out for meals together when he came to visit. He could talk to him whenever he wanted to. The politician was his father. He knew him.
And knowing God is even more wonderful than that!
In 1 John 3:1 John writes:
"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!"
The false teachers in John's day were claiming to have a special relationship with God which these 'ordinary' Christians didn't have.
But John says: no, you're on the right train! You 'ordinary' Christians really do know God! You're his children! And there is nothing more wonderful!
And that's a wonderful reassurance for Christians today. We don't need to be looking out for the latest spiritual guru, or prophet, or apostle to lead us into a special relationship with God. We already do know God.
So let's pray to know him better. In Ephesians 1:17, Paul prays:
"that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit and of revelation in the knowledge of him."
3. You Really Have Defeated the Devil (v.13b, v.14b)
My third point is this: You really have defeated the devil (v.13-14)
"I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one."
In our culture, people think it is ridiculous to believe in the devil. To believe in a personal God you talk to is excusable (if irrational), but to believe in the devil?! Surely that's a 'flat earth' belief that died out in the Middle Ages?
But John the Apostle takes the devil very seriously – and so should we. And in his letter John explains how the devil particularly works in two ways:
Firstly, through false teaching; leading us intellectually away from God. He's behind false religions, false church doctrine and secular humanism.
Secondly, through cultural pressure; leading us morally away from God. He's behind materialism, arrogance, selfishness and much more.
He's your powerful personal enemy patrolling round like a hungry lion!
But for Christians he is also your defeated enemy. 1 John 3:8 says:
"The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil."
When Jesus appeared on earth, he cast out demons from demon-possessed people. He stood firm against the devil's temptations. He died on the Cross, destroying the devil's power over death. He rose again, reigns as king in heaven and will return to throw the devil finally into hell.
And if we are Christian today, Jesus' victory over the devil is ours! We are the champions, my friends and we'll keep on fighting till the end!
The false teachers in John's day were claiming to have victory over the devil which these 'ordinary' Christians didn't have. John says: don't listen to them! You're on the right train! You're strong! You've welcomed God's Word! You really have defeated Satan!
So if you are still continuing to reject false teaching about Jesus, if you are still continuing to battle sin rather than embrace it then you are showing that you belong to the victory team. You really have overcome the devil! My friends, we are not on the wrong train! We're spiritual champions, my friends! We're on the winning team!
That's John's message. He is reassuring real Christians that they really have trusted in the real Jesus.
But it's a curious message when you think about it….
His readers are under serious threat from dangerous false teaching, but he has not commanded them to do anything. He has simply reassured them – their sins are forgiven – they know God – they have overcome Satan. Hasn't John grasped the gravity of the situation? Is John being pastorally a bit soft?
No! John is a wise and loving pastor who knows exactly what he's doing. You see the more his readers feel spiritually guilty, ignorant and powerless, the more likely they will be to listen to the false teachers and leave Jesus. But if his Christian readers know they are forgiven, they know God and they have victory over the devil, they will ignore the false teachers.
Imagine this. Once upon a time, a loanshark comes to visit two families. The Smith family has £1 in the bank. They are very tempted by the offer of £100 cash there and then. And go for it. But when the loanshark visits the Jones family, they don't even consider the offer. And they send the loanshark away. The loanshark says to the Jones family: "But don't you need the money?" They say: "We were. But uncle Jim died and left us £1 million. There's nothing you can offer us that will come even close to what we already have from him."
John wants his readers to be so thrilled with the good news of Jesus that they are not even remotely interested in the words of false teachers.
It's the same for us today if we really are Christian. Our sins really are forgiven. We really do know God. We really have overcome the evil one. There really is nothing better than that. And we're really not interested in any alternatives, because we're on the right train. That shouldn't make us smug, but it should make us so grateful that we never want to leave Jesus.
And can I make a particular plea to Christian students leaving Newcastle perhaps for the summer – or perhaps for good – don't leave Jesus in Newcastle! He has forgiven your sins! He has brought you to God! He has given you victory over Satan! You're on the right train. Stay on it!
If you're not Christian, maybe you feel that you're missing out. But the good news is that forgiveness, relationship with God and victory over the devil come free of charge through Jesus. John writes in his Gospel account 1:12:
"But to all who did receive him (Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."
All you need to do is to jump off the wrong train and onto the right train!
Father, thank you for these reassurances in your word. May they sink so deeply into our hearts that we will treasure Jesus more and more and lose our interest in false teaching.
We pray particularly for our students going home for the summer – or moving away – or staying here to work. Please may their joy increase each day as they remember their sins are forgiven, they know you and they have defeated Satan. Keep them trusting in Jesus. Keep them from false teaching.
We pray for any here this evening who don't yet know you, that they would come to enjoy real relationship with you through Jesus as your children.
In Jesus' name, Amen.