SERMON TITLE: Abiding In The Truth
TEXT: 1 John 2:23-3:3 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Robert Tansill
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Good morning, Gateway Church! I am Robert Tansill, the Pastor of Care and Counseling. And, as always, it is a pleasure and joy to worship with you both here at Country Road 9 Campus and with those joining us at North Main Campus and online. This morning, we are going to be looking at 1 John 2:23-3:3 and asking, “What does it mean to abide in the truth?”
I don’t know if you have noticed it, but “truth” has taken a big hit lately. Ironically, it has become so relative that many define “truth” for themselves rather than apply it to all people. No longer is what is true for you also true for me, but now you have “your truth,” and I have mine. Where has that led us? To the unthinkable. Now, men can get pregnant. We are no longer able to define what is a “woman.” And, that which was once a person created in God's image has now become just a lump of disposable tissue. However, is that really “truth?” Webster’s Dictionary defines truth as “the property of being in accord with fact or reality.” The Cambridge Dictionary defines truth as “the real facts about a situation, event, or person.” And the MacMillan Dictionary defines truth as “the actual facts or information about something, rather than what people think, expect, or make up.”
As we think about what truth is in light of our passage this morning, we must understand the context to grasp what our passage is saying. In 1 John 2:18-22, which leads up to our passage, we read these words, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.”
In this context, the Apostle John calls the reader to cling to the truth they have been taught: that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of God - God in the flesh. Yet, this truth was being questioned due to false teachers in the church. So, up to this point in the letter, John has been building his case against these false teachers by encouraging his readers to hold on to what they already know to be true.
And in our passage this morning, not only is the author, John, challenging us to reflect on what is true, but also how that truth impacts how we live.
Listen to John’s words in 1 John 2:23-3:3, which is our passage for the morning.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us — eternal life. 26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. 1 John 2:28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 2:23-3:3 ESV)
As John not only wants to help his readers understand more fully the truth of who Jesus is, but also how that truth should impact their lives, the first thing he wants us to see is that …
Point 1: Abiding In The Truth…Calls Us To Rely Fully On Jesus (2:23-27)
What does it mean to “rely fully on Jesus?” As John is about to show us, it means three things. First, it means confessing Jesus as Christ and Lord. Listen to John's words again in verses 23-24, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you.” When John says, “Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also,” he is not just talking about saying, “I believe in Jesus.” It is much deeper than that. He is talking about confessing Jesus so that others know He is the One you rely on rather than yourself. Why do I say that? Because, as John said earlier, Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one of God. What is Jesus anointed to do? To fully restore God’s rule and reign on earth. That is why Jesus came to earth in human form and why he says in Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Not only did he conquer death and sin through the cross, but he was also establishing God’s rule on earth. And when we call ourselves “Christians” or “followers of Jesus,” that is what we are implying. It means that we not only submit ourselves to his rule but also seek to live under his authority rather than our own, which is why Jesus is referred to as “Christ” and “Lord” throughout the epistles. Used together at least ninety times in the New Testament to describe Jesus, these two words reiterate what we all know to be true but sometimes struggle to live out. If we are going to call ourselves Christians, then we are called to willingly submit ourselves to his Lordship over our lives because we know that he alone has been given the task and authority by God the Father to establish his rule on earth as it is in heaven. This is why Paul’s words in Romans 10:9 are so important when he says, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” This is part of what it means to rely fully on Jesus.
A second thing it means to rely fully on Jesus is to believe in what he promised. In verses 24-25, John writes, “If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us — eternal life.” What does John mean by “what you heard from the beginning?” He is talking about the Gospel revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ (1 John 2:13-14). Because of the Gospel, we know both God the Father and Jesus, his Son. Because of the Gospel, we have overcome the evil one through the power of Christ in our lives; a power that has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom Christ has established (Colossians 1:13). Because of the Gospel, we desire God’s Word and seek to live under his authority which enables us to overcome the evil one (1 John 2:14). And because of the Gospel, we have the promise of eternal life which is a result of relying fully on Jesus as Christ and Lord. This is how we know that we are Christians. Using a conditional clause, John says, “IF the gospel abides in you, THEN you will continue to abide in the Son and in the Father,” resulting in eternal life.
Is this a work we do, or something done to us? This is why “abide” is so important in our passage. Used seventeen times in 1 John and ten times in John’s Gospel, “abide” simply means “to remain” or “to stay.” Because we understand the Gospel and continue to live under the sovereign authority of Jesus Christ, our Lord, despite horrific circumstances that we might face, temptations that seek to pull us away from God, or even persecution with the threat of death, we continue to abide in Christ as the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
As Anglican Pastor and author J.C. Ryle has said, “To abide in Christ means to keep up a habit of constant close communion with him - to be always leaning on him, resting on him, pouring out our hearts to him, and using him as our Fountain of life and strength, as our chief Companion and best Friend. To have his words abiding in us, to keep his sayings and precepts continually before our memories and minds, and to make them the guide of our actions and the rule of our daily conduct and behavior.” (J.C. Ryle, “Expository Thoughts on the Gospels”; GLH Publishing, 2012). As we do this, we are abiding in Christ, receiving, as promised, eternal life. This is the second way that we rely fully on Jesus.
And a third and final way we rely on Jesus is by learning from the Holy Spirit. John says in verses 26-27, “26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him (ESV).” What is John talking about here? Once again, he is talking about the Gospel and how the anointing of the Holy Spirit brings the Gospel to life in our lives.
Can you remember when you were not a believer or did not have a relationship with Jesus? I can! I grew up in a religious family. I went to church and Sunday school every Sunday in my three-piece suit! I went to a Christian school from fifth grade until I graduated. And I heard the Bible constantly. However, until I saw the NEED for Jesus in my life at seventeen years of age, the words in my Bible were just words, and the Gospel was something I had already “accepted” but had no purpose or application to my life. So I did the dance and looked the part, but I had not yet experienced the anointing of the Holy Spirit that John talks about in his Gospel in John 3, where Jesus is talking about being “born again.” In short, I acted the right way (at times!) and said the right things, but I was a “poser.” I was not saved, but I wanted everyone to think I was. In fact, I believed I was saved even though my actions would have proved me a liar.
Then, after all those years, I heard the Gospel yet again. And all of a sudden, it made sense. Why? Because of the Holy Spirit. He made the words on those pages in my Bible jump out at me and helped me understand what the Gospel meant and why I needed it so much. Unless he changed my heart, I would never have understood the Gospel, which is why the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them, and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means.” The truth of the Gospel is that Jesus is the Christ, God in the flesh, and that unless you have an abiding relationship with him by submitting your life to him, you will never have eternal life with the Father. But there is more.
A second thing that John wants us to see in verses 28-29 is that…
Point 2: Abiding In The Truth…Calls Us To Obedience (2:28-29)
One of the most challenging things about the Christian life is finding the balance between license and legalism. License says that, because of what Christ has done for me, I can do anything I want because I am “free in Christ,” quoting John 8:36 or Romans 8:2 in the process. Legalism, on the other hand, says that because Christ has saved me, I have to respond in obedience to ensure that the work he accomplished on the cross for me comes to fruition as I take the baton from him and run this race of faith in my own strength. He died on the cross for my sins, and I prove by my actions that his death on the cross is real in my life, earning my salvation in the process. And both are wrong. What is the truth?
Listen again to John’s words in verse 28, “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” Let me ask you a question. When Jesus returns, and we all stand before him and the Father at the judgment seat, believer and unbeliever alike, what will make the difference in whether a person spends eternity in the new heaven and new earth with God or in hell away from God? It won’t be because of how good you are. If that is your answer, then you are sadly mistaken.
You will only be able to stand before God when he returns to judge because you have trusted in the righteousness of Christ rather than your righteousness. Said another way, knowing how sinful you are and that you can do nothing to earn favor with God, you constantly look to and rely on Christ’s righteousness rather than your own. One Christian author calls it “Preaching the gospel to yourself.” It means reminding yourself, as a Christian, that you are adequate enough when you don’t feel adequate because of what Christ has done for you on the cross and is doing in your life now by his Spirit. When God looks at you in your unrighteousness, he sees his Son in his righteousness.
So, for someone who feels like a horrible parent because their two-year-old is embarrassing them in front of everyone by just being a two-year-old, calling into question your ability to parent, John says, “Abide in him!” For the person passed over for that promotion, even though they know they deserve it more than the other person, leaving them feeling unworthy and incompetent, John says, “Abide in him!” And for the teenager whose friends are rejecting them because they are not doing what the world says to do, but rather what they know to be right and honoring to God, John once again says, “Abide in him!”
And what will be the outcome as we continue to abide in Christ rather than rely on ourselves or do our own thing? John says, “so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” Notice that he doesn’t say, “IF he appears,” but “WHEN he appears.” So, let me ask you a brutally honest question. Suppose you call yourself a Christian but are purposefully and continually pursuing things you know are not honoring God. Is there any reason for you to feel fully confident in your salvation? I don’t think so. Why? Because you are not abiding in Christ and his righteousness but continue to rely on your righteousness. And why are you doing that? I guess you don’t honestly believe that Jesus is coming back or that you are hoping that you have been good enough to earn your way into heaven. But, as we have already said, that won’t work. So, what do you do?
I think the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 13:5 from the Message translation are helpful, “Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it.” Christian, are you abiding in Jesus by trusting in him and his righteousness as you go through life, or not? You know the answer to that question! By abiding in Christ on a day-by-day, moment-by-moment basis, we can have confidence that we relied on him and his righteousness rather than ourselves in this life when he returns. And the result? As the Message puts it, “Then we’ll be ready for him when he appears, ready to receive him with open arms, with no cause for red-faced guilt or lame excuses when he arrives.”
What does that look like if we choose to abide in Christ rather than rely on ourselves (and it is a choice!)? In a word, “Obedience.” Once again, the word “obedience” often has negative connotations. So, we have to ask the question, “Why should I choose to obey God?” John gives us the reason in verse 29, “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. (1 John 2:29, ESV)
As we've already said, you should choose to be obedient because you are convinced that Jesus is the only righteous person who has ever lived and the only way to God. And because you are convinced you can do nothing to earn your salvation, you know you have to rely on Jesus and cling to his righteousness every day rather than rely on yourself. And the natural outcome of those decisions is obedience. So, it's what we know to be true about Jesus that causes us to be obedient to him. In fact, to state verse 29 differently, “If you are convinced that Jesus is who he says he is, that truth will motivate you to be obedient, proving that you are born again.” Where do we see the word “born again” in our passage? It’s right there in the phrase, “born of him.” That is the same Greek word that John uses in John 3:3-8 as Jesus explains what it means to be born again to Nicodemus. So, let me give you a question to think about. How convinced are you? Are you so convinced of who Jesus says he is that you want to be obedient to him? Does abiding in what you know to be true about him drive you to obey God or not?
We aren’t talking about being perfectly obedient because that is impossible, which is why John said earlier in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (ESV) Only one man obeyed God perfectly: Jesus, whose righteousness you claim as your own if you call yourself a Christian. But it does mean you intentionally and purposefully practice righteousness. Or, as the New Living Translation puts it, “do what is right.” (NLT) Why?
Because you can, and you want to! You are convinced of who Jesus is, you are abiding in him, you have his Spirit living in you and motivating you to obey him, and you know that any righteousness you do is not because of you but because of Jesus living inside you as a result of being “born again.” John is alluding to this in his letters when he uses the phrase, “walking in the truth (1 John 1:6–7; 2:6, 11; 2 John 1:4, 6; 3 John 1:3–4).” And this is why you obey and why you will be able to stand with confidence rather than shame when Christ returns. So, are you convinced that Jesus is Christ and Lord? If so, prove it!
But there’s more. Other than calling you to obedience, what else does the truth about Jesus call you to? Looking at Chapter 3, verses 1-3, John tells us, which is that…
Point 3: Abiding In The Truth…Calls Us To Hope. (3:1-3)
In 1 John 3:1, John makes an incredibly radical statement about God and you if you are abiding in Christ. He writes, ”See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” Folks, if you want to be amazed, think about why God caused you to be born again, allowed you to benefit from Christ’s death on the cross, views you in the righteousness of his Son rather than your unrighteousness, gives you his Spirit to help you walk in the truth, and then gives you eternal life with him. It logically makes no sense. So why does he do it for us? Because he loves us. That’s it!
Why does God love you? It’s not because you are worthy, because you aren’t (Revelation 5:2-5). It’s not because you sin less than the other guy, because you don’t (Romans 3:23). And it's not because he sees any good in you, because he doesn’t (Romans 3:12). The crazy, illogical, radically wonderful truth of the Gospel is that he loves you because he chooses to love you. And because he loves you, he gives you the status of “child of God.” It’s called “being justified,” which means that because God loves you, he declares you righteous with the righteousness of his Son, Jesus.
And how should this truth impact us? As author Brennan Manning writes, “We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that he should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at his love, bewildered that at this very moment, we are standing on holy ground.” (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out) What can you expect to happen as you walk in the truth of that righteousness?
Look at the second half of verse 1, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” As you live the truth of who Jesus is, not only will the world become less appealing to you, but you will most likely become less appealing to the world. Your truth will not be their truth, and your joy will not be their joy. Your joy is in Jesus, which sustains you even in the worst trials. The world’s joy is in themselves and what they can obtain in this life alone because that is all they have. As I said earlier, that’s who I was before trusting Jesus and who you were as well. However, if you call yourself a Christian, that’s not who you are anymore. You are now a child of the living God and abide in his Son Jesus Christ as Lord. And it’s that truth that spurs us on and gives us hope. Hope in what?
Look at verse 2, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Again, another crazy, illogical, wonderful truth of the Gospel. Even though you are God’s child at this very moment, if you have placed your faith in Jesus and are abiding in him, things as you know it doesn’t even compare to the glory that is to come. Why? Because when Christ returns, everything is going to change. What will it be like? Though John doesn’t tell us, in 1 Corinthians 15:52, the Apostle Paul describes it like this, “It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.” (NLT)
And in Philippians 3:21, Paul says, “He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.” (NLT) What does this mean for us? When Jesus comes back, everything will be made new, including us. He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. (Revelation 21:4)
And this truth is not only where our hope lies, but it also motivates us to continue to abide in Jesus and pursue obedience. Because we are convinced of who Jesus is as the Christ and our Lord, with hope, we wait for his return and the promise of eternal life with God in all his glory.
If the false teachers in John’s day and ours were right that Jesus is not the Christ and not the only way to God, we would have no reason to hope. But I love how the Message puts the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot. 20 But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.” Because Christ has been raised from the dead, he proves that he is who he says he is; the Son of God who is both Christ and Lord. And because he is Christ and Lord, it would be in our best interest to abide in him, resulting in obedience and driven by hope.
And this is why John’s words in verse 3 are so poignant for all of us this morning when he says, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” Listen to how the New Living Translation puts this, “And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.” Again, how do we keep ourselves pure? By abiding in the truth, which means relying fully on Jesus as Christ and Lord, causing us to obey which is driven by the hope of his return.
These are the marching orders for those already convinced of who Jesus is. And for any of you who may not yet be convinced, let me conclude with these words from Pastor and author Tim Keller, “If you are looking at Christianity, start by looking at Jesus’s life as it is shown to us in the gospels, and especially at the resurrection. Don’t begin, as modern people do, by asking yourself if Christianity fits who you are. If the resurrection happened, then there is a God who created you for himself and ultimately, yes, Christianity fits you whether you can see it now or not. If he’s real and risen, then just like [the Apostle] Paul in Acts 9:1-6, even though he had none of the answers to any of his questions, you’ll have to say, ‘What would you have me do, Lord?’” (Tim Keller, Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter; Viking, 2021)
Let's pray together.
Father, words cannot express how grateful we are for your love which is most clearly displayed in the sacrifice of your Son Jesus. As we leave this gathering, I pray that we will go fully convinced in what we say we believe, that Jesus is the Christ and the one we call Lord. With the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells in all those who have placed their trust in you, I pray that you would fill us with the hope of what is to come and that hope would motivate in us humble obedience for your glory.
Father, all praise, glory, and honor belong to you, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We long for that day when we will stand before you face to face in the righteousness of your Son, with arms wide open and worshiping you in all your glory. Until that day, continue strengthening our faith as we choose to abide in you. Help us endure trials and struggles, knowing we will not be appealing to the world because of our love for you. And protect us from the evil one who seeks to destroy us as we seek to obey you. And until then, may we rest in the finished work of Christ alone for our salvation and in the hope of his return. For to you and you alone belongs all the glory. - Amen
“Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. 25 All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.” (Jude 24-25)
Brothers and sisters, you are sent!