Author and Presbyterian pastor Eugene Peterson has written,
What is hazardous in my life is my work as a Christian. Every day I put faith on the line. I have never seen God. In a world where nearly everything can be weighed, explained, quantified, subjected to psychological analysis and scientific control I persist in making the center of my life a God whom no eye hath seen, nor ear heard, whose will no one can probe. That’s a risk.
In 1 John 5:1-5 we learn more about the risk of faith, its nature and its effects. Listen for God’s word to you…
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
The first thing John tells us here is something about the nature of faith.
There is a phrase I often hear as a pastor. When someone faces a tragedy of some sort, the loss of a loved one, or a job layoff, or the trials and tribulations of dealing with a son or daughter wandering from God, people will say to that person dealing with tragedy: “Thank God for your faith.” People make this statement thinking that there is some magic in faith itself, thinking that it does not matter what one’s faith is in; all that matters is faith. Personally, I think differently.
To me, faith is like a straw through which I take the contents of a chocolate shake into my mouth. Can you imagine someone purchasing a shake at the Malt Shop here in Stowe, setting aside the shake, and being content simply licking the straw? No, we use the straw to get the delicious ice cream into our mouths where we can roll it over our tongues in total delight.
Faith is like that. It is simply a straw, a conduit, through which we receive something far more important. What matters is not faith itself, but faith’s object.
According to John, the proper object of our faith is Jesus Christ. John tells us that everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, that person has had something miraculous happen to them. They have been born of God. Faith and spiritual rebirth are inseparably intertwined.
John is recalling the words of Jesus in the third chapter of The Gospel of John, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”
Paul says something similar in 1 Corinthians 12:3. He writes, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
Without spiritual rebirth we cannot see the kingdom of God. Without the Holy Spirit in our lives we cannot truly confess Jesus as Lord, Jesus as Master and Commander. Therefore, when we confess Jesus as Messiah, it is a sign that we have already been born of God. The key thing is not faith itself, but the One in whom our faith is placed.
Pastor Phil LeMaster tells the following story….
It was nearing Christmas, and I received a phone call from a man who needed to talk to a counselor. I met him at my church office, where he told me his tale of woe. A decade earlier, he killed his wife in a fit of anger, was convicted of manslaughter, and spent several years in prison. He and his wife had a daughter who was in the custody of his in-laws. He had not seen her since the crime, and now, as Christmas neared, his heart ached. Tears streaming down his face, he lamented, “I could pass her on the streets of this city and not even know who she was.”
What I remember most about our counseling session, however, was what he said when he first walked into my office. Dramatically raising his arms he said, “Now, preacher, let’s just leave Jesus out of this, okay?”
As he sadly went his way that day, I thought to myself, That’s the whole problem. You’ve left Jesus out.
When we leave Jesus out of the equation, faith is just an empty straw.
I don’t know if you have heard of the blind hymn-writer Fanny Crosby. Instead of wallowing in self-pity because of her blindness, she trusted in Jesus Christ and wrote many hymns we still sing, like To God Be the Gloryand Blessed Assurance.
When Fanny Crosby was old, somebody told her that, if she had been born in that day, an operation could have restored her sight. Instead of being bitter, she said, “I don’t know that I would change anything. Do you know that the first thing I’m ever going to see is the face of Jesus?”
There is someone who knew where her faith resided! Fanny Crosby’s life was changed, and her life continues to positively impact the lives of others, not simply because she was a woman of faith, but because she placed her faith in Jesus as Messiah.
The second major point John makes in this passage is about the effects of faith.
If faith is a sign of spiritual rebirth, and I believe it is, then the effects of faith that John goes on to articulate are further signs of the new relationship that the Christian has with God. John points out three effects of faith, or three ways that faith is demonstrated in the life of the Christian.
However, before we look into each of these effects of faith, it is important to note that sometimes it is hard for us to see these effects in our own lives. Often these effects are more evident to others than they are to us. In fact, I surmise that some of us will not fully recognize these effects in our lives until we reach heaven.
The story is told about a particular woman who loved plants in general and flowers in particular. She planted a rare vine against a stone wall near the back of her yard. She nurtured the vine, and it grew well. The plant grew to be quite vigorous and beautiful. However, the woman never saw the blossoms that the vine was supposed to produce. Thus, she was very disappointed.
One day this woman stood looking at her vine with its beautiful foliage but no blossoms. Her neighbor called across the wall, asking her to come over to his yard. The woman went over to the other yard. The neighbor said, “Thank you for planting that vine. Look at these beautiful blossoms.”
What had happened was this: the vine had crept through the stone wall, and the blossoms were on the other side. The woman who planted the vine simply had not seen them yet.
That is often the way of it when it comes to the effects of faith. Others often see those signs of faith in us before we do. Furthermore, sometimes we will not see the effects of faith until we “go over to the other side,” until we reach heaven.
What are the effects of faith that John articulates in this passage? The first is love, love for God and love for God’s children. John says, “Everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.”
John never tires of reminding us of what Jesus called the two great commandments: to love God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls, and with all our strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. In a sense, this is really a three-part commandment. If we love God then we will love God’s children, and each one of us are God’s children. Therefore, we need to love ourselves, because as the saying goes: “God don’t make no junk.” When we truly receive God’s love, and are therefore able to love ourselves more effectively, then we can go on to reflect that love back to God and outward to others.
The second effect of faith goes right along with the first. It is obedience.
How do we know that we are really showing love to others? John says we can be sure that we are loving God’s children if we love God first and carry out God’s commands. In fact, John says, to keep God’s commands is to love God.
This is true in every parent-child relationship. If I ask one of my sons to do something for me, and they refuse to do it, that refusal suggests that my son may not love or respect me. Now, I am human, and therefore fallible and sinful. Sometimes I may ask my sons to do something that is wrong, or I may ask them out of the wrong motive. However, God is good all the time. God never asks us to do anything wrong, nor does he ever ask us to do something for him out of the wrong motive. God’s motives are always perfect and good. Thus, there is never any reason why we should not obey God, and when we do obey God that obedience demonstrates our love for God. Our love for God should be demonstrated in concrete acts.
Furthermore, John points out that God’s commands are not burdensome. If we are God’s children then we are going to want to obey God. Obeying God is what we were created to do.
Sometimes we get the mistaken notion that if we surrender ourselves completely to God then God will send us somewhere we do not want to go, or make us do something we do not want to do. However, such is not the case. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. That is what we were created to do. In fact, we most glorify God when we are enjoying God. The two go together. Glorifying and enjoying God are not laborious tasks.
As Frederick Buechner has said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
The third effect of faith that John points out in this passage is: victory.
John is echoing the words of Jesus in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
As I have said many times before, Jesus promises us at least four things in life: “Peace, power, purpose, and trouble!”
To follow Jesus is to go against the grain of the world; to follow him means going against the flow. Thus, there will be opposition for the true Christian. There will be some form of persecution. Jesus experienced trouble; therefore, Jesus’ followers can count on experiencing problems too.
However, the good news is that Jesus overcame all the troubles of this world through his death and resurrection. Therefore, as we put our trust in Jesus, we too will overcome. By the straw of faith, we can take Jesus’ own victory into ourselves.
One of the ways we do that, one of the ways we take Jesus’ victory into ourselves, is by partaking of Holy Communion. As we come to the Lord’s Table today, if we come in faith, just as surely as we eat the bread and drink the wine, so also do we take Jesus afresh into our souls.
Eugene Peterson in Living The Message. Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 11.
Submitted by Phil LeMaster, Senior Minister, First Church of Christ, Grayson, Kentucky, preachingtoday.com
R. L. Russell, “Triumphing over Trials,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 119.
Gordon Johnson, “Finding Significance in Obscurity,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 82.