A few years ago I read a book called A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became the World’s Greatest Traveler. It is about James Holman who is considered by many one of the worlds greatest travelers whom no one knows about. His writings have inspired Charles Darwin
James Holman was born in 1786 a healthy young man with perfect vision. As a young lad he joined the British Navy, but the wet and cold took its toll and by 25 years of age he was suffering from a debilitating rheumatism that often crippled him with pain for days and weeks at a time, and eventually took his sight.
Bring blind in this world almost a death sentence. Often the blind were simply given a bowl and told to beg for their living. They were considered totally helpless. Holman was accepted into the Naval Knights of Windsor an organization that took care of ailing veterans with the simple requirement that they attend church twice a day.
But that life was too sedentary for him. He couldn’t sit still. The more sedentary he was the greater the illness, but there was within him a drive to overcome this life that had been handed to him and press on for something more. He would not let blindness define him. He wasn’t going to be a charity case.
Holman studied medicine at Edinburgh University. Braille hadn’t been invented yet so it was impossible for him to read the required texts...so he absorbed the information by attending the lectures three and four times.
But even more daring, Holman began venturing out on the city streets of London...alone...refusing to wear the blindfold required of those who were blind. He practiced what has become known as human echolocation. He would tap his metal-tipped walking stick against the ground and use the reverberations to “see” the world around him.
So James Holman was able not only to get around...but began to venture out farther and farther until he became the first blind man to circumnavigate the globe...in the early 1800’s...when very few others with sight were able to accomplish this feat. He climbed Mt. Vesuvius, walked around the inner dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, traveled through areas where sighted travelers only feared to venture.
Lieutenant James Holman was able to overcome the limitations of blindness and pain to accomplish what so few others have accomplished even today...he traveled around the world and experienced the world. A friend and admirer once wrote of Holman, ““He had eyes in his mouth, eyes in his nose, eyes in his ears, and eyes in his mind.”
The Apostle John knew Jesus’ followers would face many things that must be overcome in our lives if we are to live as God demands. He knew the false teachers and prophets that were attempting to lead members of his church astray were not the last. Many more “antichrists” would come and attempt to lead God’s children astray. So as John brings this letter to a close he wants to encourage Jesus’ followers, then and now, that we can overcome the world. We can overcome the things that hold us back and keep us from becoming what God desires for us. We can over come the world.
Let’s read today’s passage...it is a long one...but here we go. 1 John 5:1-21
1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
6 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. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the[a] Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.
10Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
16 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.
18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. 19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
John is writing this to the believers in his church in Ephesus so that, according to verse 13, “you may know that you have eternal life.” He wanted them to know. He wanted them to have certainty that they were God’s children. The false teachers claimed they had the truth and their teaching caused these dedicated believers to doubt. So these once stable and dedicated believers were now beginning to doubt they were REALLY followers of Jesus at all...that they REALLY had eternal life.
This happens all the time. We meet people who have had many “conversion” experiences. They discover the truth of Jesus Christ, but after awhile the newness wears off or they hear some teaching and they begin to doubt. The excitement dies down. They have to settle into the “normal” Christian life and begin the hard work of character transformation and living life while depending on the quiet promptings and whispers of the Holy Spirit. They have to be part of this thing we call church that would be great if it weren’t that other people were there with all their hurts and baggage as well.
Some settle into the reality that all of life is not lived on a mountain peak, but some begin looking for something more. They look for that next great Bible teacher or the latest greatest book or the church that is really soaked in the presence of God or whatever it is that leads them to that next spiritual high that will certainly enliven and prove they are experiencing God and remove their doubt.
And John says in a simple and concise way that knowing with certainty is easy. Knowing isn’t a feeling. It isn’t a mountaintop experience all the time. It isn’t listening to the latest and greatest teacher. Really knowing is trusting in the truth of something very simple. Knowing is believing that Jesus is the Christ. Being people who are certain of eternal life and people who overcome the world begins with believing that Jesus is the Christ.
C.S. Lewis is famously quoted as saying,
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
This has often been reduced to saying that Jesus is either Lord, liar, or lunatic.
For us, our ability to overcome the world begins with accepting who Jesus claimed to be, with accepting him as Lord and not just a good teacher or shining example of a good life. It doesn’t even begin with accepting a bundle of theological doctrines and beliefs. It begins by believing one VERY important belief. That Jesus was both fully God and fully man and entered our realm to sacrificially give His life to free us from sin and death.
Don’t ask me to explain in a clear and concise way that you can easily understand how it is that Jesus is both fully God and fully man because that is impossible and even a general introduction would take more time than we have this morning. In a nutshell, what we do have are many scriptures pointing out that God is one and there is only one God. We also have many Scriptures talking about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as being distinct beings.
This is a philosophical and religious dilemma that really would have bothered first century Jews even more than it does us. They were radically committed to Deuteronomy 6:4 where it says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” So the false teachers, in some ways, made Jesus more palatable, more graspable than John and the other disciples. These teachers were willing to say that Jesus was either fully human but not divine or he was fully divine but not fully human. And Jews could easily accept that because it didn’t conflict with their core belief.
But John was not willing to waver. He knew the difficulty of the position he was advocating. But for John the very essence of our salvation rested on the fact that Jesus as fully human and fully divine had entered our realm and sacrificed himself. In the words of Hebrews 1:3, Jesus was “...the exact representation of [God’s] being...” Without this belief there is no salvation. If Jesus were not God then his sacrifice was meaningless...just another human being dieing on a Roman cross. And if Jesus were not human then the sacrificial death required was not met because many humans had died before this and it was not sufficient to bring about salvation.
To deny this, John says, would be to call God a liar because God himself had given the testimony that this was true.
1 John 5:6-10 says,
“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 human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.”
And here is where things get very practical and applicable for them as well as for us... 1 John 5:11-12 says, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” John has come full circle in this chapter. He started it out by saying that “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God...” and now concludes this section by pointing out that being born of God is the same thing as having life...eternal life.
That phrase “eternal life” carries a lot of baggage. Many just think of it as a life that never ends. A life where we get to go to heaven and hell is no longer on the radar. It a life where we are forgiven of our sins, we live a good Christian life, and then go to heaven when we die.
But it is more than that, and if we reduce to just a life that never ends or some nonsense like that we miss all that we have to gain.
For John the idea of Eternal Life was a life filled with the fullness of God’s presence. It is the life that leads us to overcome the world. It is the life that enables obedience to God’s commands. It is the life that allows us to fully love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. In his Gospel, John writes in 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” For John the fullness of life was not in some sweet by-and-by it was in the here and now.
If we are ever going to overcome the world and the sinfulness that holds us back, it will only be through Jesus Christ. It will only come as we accept that He is the Son of God who has come into the world as a sacrifice for our sins and offers us this gift of real life...of true life...a life that means we are being restored into what God originally intended for us...when we follow Him.
We are still trapped in a sinful, broken world. But even in the midst of all the pain and suffering and hurt, we are able to glimpse and take part in the world that is to come. We are able to love others in the face of some pretty unlovable things. We are able to serve others even when no one else wants anything to do with them. We are able to forgive even when forgiveness seems impossible.
What God wants for us is not a life of fear and oppression at having to live up to His commands, but a life lived to the fullest in His presence...inspired by love. Notice in verse 3 that obedience to God’s commands are linked to our love for God.
Why do you do nice things for your spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend? It is out of love. If we want to obey God we have to first love Him. Rules and guilt only take us so far. They are easy tools to use to get people to obey. I mean we can guilt many people into coming to church and doing good things if we say, “You will go to hell if you don’t do this!” We can make anyone feel guilty if we keep piling on the rules...but if we really want to see a change. If we really want people to follow God it has to come from love born out of a belief in His Son Jesus Christ and what He has done for us.
Nothing else works...really. What does it mean to be disciples of Jesus Christ? What is the sign of eternal life? It isn’t outward conformity to some moral standard. It isn’t outward obedience to God. Those may appear to be righteous and loving and caring.. It may look like it on the outside, but what it means to be a disciple is that we are transformed on the inside not brought to conformity on the outside.
That is why you will hear me say we want to make disciple not get decisions here at Crossroads Vineyard. So often we are content in the church to get someone to say a sinner’s prayer and consider it good and done. I don’t believe that is supported by anything we read in the Bible. No, we are called to fall in love with God through Jesus Christ, and out of that love become obedient to His commands. That is why John is able to say in 1 John 5:3, “His commands are not burdensome...” Because when we love someone then nothing we do for them is burdensome...except for maybe vacuuming or picking your clothes up off the floor or hanging another picture on the wall or...oh nevermind.
This has been a rather heady and theologically driven message, and for that I apologize. But it leads to a very practical question.
Do you love God?
It starts with recognizing who Jesus is, what he has accomplished for us, because he is the representation of all that God is. He is God in the flesh. If we want to know what God is like...we need only look to Jesus.
Do you love God?
Have you decided to follow Jesus?
Not just accept him into your heart as a good idea or a way out of hell or into heaven...have you accepted that all that Jesus is and said and taught is the Truth and is the way you want to define your life?
How we answer those questions determine the Christian life we will have...one that is drudgery, guilt driven, and easily overcome by sin...or one that is filled with love and obedience and overcomes the world and its sinfulness.
And so we have come to the end of our Revolutionary Love series and our journey through 1 John. John’s commitment to loving God and our brothers and sisters in Christ is rooted in accepting who Jesus is as the Son of God and following Him not out of compulsion or guilt or fear...but out of a revolutionary love that turns us into revolutionary lovers of God and life, and beauty, and mystery and the people around us.
We are able to overcome the world because God’s presence is now.
Next week we begin our message series on The Life of Jesus. We will be working through the Gospel of Mark...
For more information about Crossroads Vineyard Church in Huber Heights check us out online at www.daytoncrossroads.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/daytoncrossroads