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1st John (2011)

How Do I Know I'm Saved?

1 John  3:10-24

Lesson audio

The Fraud of "Heart " Christianity

In the middle of the 19th century, Christian preachers discovered that the new invention of the railroad could bring together large crowds which previously would have required much more effort. As a result of this change preaching methods change with it. Out of this change of method there came a change of theology.

Heart Christianity — What Is It?

The major change which occurred was the shift from attempting to logically reason with the audience to an appeal to the emotions. As this developed, we find attitude well expressed by one preacher's phrase, "Check your brain at the door, because God wants your heart." The appeal of Christianity became that it made you feel good. Since this became its primary virtue, the study of the Scriptures has declined in importance. The reason is very simple: study of the Scriptures is an effort of the mind, not of the heart. The matter has gone so far that there are many preachers today who actively discourage the study of the Bible because it gets in the way of the emotional experience which they think Christianity really is. For example, in our own church we have a policy that no new Bible fellowships will be established; the existing ones will be allowed to age and wither.[1]

This is not just a preference in preaching methods. One of the most common effects comes when one asks the question, "How do I know I am saved?" We will get to the biblical answer later in the lesson; the usual answer today given is that you "feel it in your heart." Emotion now provides the authenticity test of Christianity. There is, of course, an obvious problem with this. Some of us are quite capable of generating what ever emotions we need; others find themselves rather unemotional in most circumstances. The former therefore are easily saved; we may assume that the latter are predestined to Hell.

It's important to point out that this is not a new phenomenon. This is not something which has just come out of the emerging church movement. It has often been used as a cover for heresy. Indeed, it makes a pretty good cover for fraud, too. If you'd like an example, tune into any "name it and claim it" evangelists on television. You'll find the appeal is an emotional one — even though the basic logical appeal is one of greed.

The Appeal

It would seem that it would be relatively easy to point out this error. There's a very simple reason why most preachers don't want to hear it: the method works. Practically every preacher wants the magic formula to make his attendance grow, his offerings increase, and baptisms to grow. If you meet these three criteria, it's obvious to the average preacher that you must be doing it the way, God wants. There is an obvious logical fallacy to this; for example, if we pass the offering plates by using naked strip club dancers, it's likely that the offering will increase. Therefore, we need someone to go out and recruit strippers, right?[2]

The reason the emotional method works is that it is the way of the world. We sell our goods and services on an emotional basis. Have you ever seen a car commercial without a pretty girl? Emotional appeal works because it's the way of the world. This gives rise to another reason that it is used. The tools for mass media Christianity, an appeal to thousands on the basis of emotion, are cheap and readily available. The emotional method is a shortcut, the quickest way to making your church into a mega-church. The difficulty comes with those who are not easily persuaded by emotion. They promptly conclude that Christianity is either fraud or delusion — since obviously there are no facts connected with it.

Postmodernism

When the scourge of postmodernism arrived it greatly amplified the effectiveness of the technique. The postmodernist believes that there is no absolute reality; you create your own. The postmodernist believes that there is no such thing as absolute truth, only your own personal truth. The postmodernist also believes that all ethical systems are simply a cover for "the will to power."

How does this play with Christianity? How often have you heard lately, "I'm glad that's true for you." Evangelism is no longer the hard road of convincing someone else of the truth; it's now the simple process of stating what you believe with no possibility of offending your hearer. They just assume you have a separate reality, and Christianity is true in your reality. They can take it or leave it; no offense intended, none in the world.

The same reaction governs our mention of the word "sin." To tell someone that they are a sinner, in need of repentance and salvation, is "judgmental." But if it's not an absolute reality, just one that is specific to me, then my words can't be judgmental. So this is a good way to avoid criticism of being puritanical. It's also a good explanation of the current trend to replace evangelism with "random acts of kindness."

It is more difficult to recruit people to go to church if you have to convince them of the existence of absolute truth, a single reality, and the validity of a system of ethics. That's "doing it the hard way." We all know how unpopular that is.

Key Question: How Do I Know I Am Saved?

All the discussion about brings up the question, "Just how do I know that I really am saved?" It's a question that has been asked why believers since the earliest times.

Answers

Throughout history there have been several answers to this. We will consider very briefly the three most important ones:

·         First, there is the formal approach. You enlist in a church — which of course proclaims that they are the one and only true church, all the others being frauds — and your name is formally entered onto the rolls of the church. This is a common understanding among Catholics, for example. If you're on the list you go to heaven — no matter what you've done.

·         Second, there is the "feel it in my heart" approach, as discussed above. This is really much more effective when the heavens open up and the finger of God appears pointing at you, saying "thou art saved."[3]

·         Then there is the biblical approach, as outlined by the apostle John in today's passage.

1 John 3:10-24 NASB  By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.  (11)  For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another;  (12)  not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous.  (13)  Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.  (14)  We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.  (15)  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  (16)  We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  (17)  But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  (18)  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.  (19)  We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him  (20)  in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.  (21)  Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;  (22)  and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.  (23)  This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.  (24)  The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

What Does the Bible Say?

John's approach is quite different. It primarily depends upon the principle that is usually associated with the sciences. If you want to know what's going on within a person, you must look at the effects shown in the person's life. John gives us four basic tests.

Love One Another

The Scriptures tell us that the world will know Christ's disciples by their love. In particular, we are encouraged to share with each other our worldly goods. This is a great sign of difference between us and the world. The world looks at "things" as being highly important; we see them as they are — temporary. A true Christian is willing to share his worldly goods with others who need them.[4]

There is an interesting corollary to this. It is possible to deceive oneself in this matter. It is possible to actually hate your brother but profess to love him. This is extremely dangerous; it means that you tell yourself (as well as others) that you genuinely love — but you don't have any actions to prove it. It is well to examine yourself in this matter.

This is of course nothing less than an example of the imitation of Christ, who gave his life for us on the cross.

The World Hates You

One of the great puzzles in life to most Christians is this: why is it I get so much flack for being such a nice guy? Your Lord told you about this; he said that if you love him the world will hate you.[5] You are promised words for the occasions when they arise. That is something that usually doesn't happen to most of us. Most of us just want to know what we should do about it.

The answer is to consider this hatred of blessing.[6] The rationale is simple: the reason the world hates you is because you resemble Christ. Resembling Christ — dare I say the imitation of Christ? — is the way Christians grow. So if the world hates you, and you've given them no reason for it, then the blessing of God rests upon you – and that's a good thing.

Of course, I have answered your curiosity, have I? You want to know why the world hates you. The reason is very simple; they don't know God.[7] if they did, they would love him and see the resemblance to him in you.

Answered Prayer

The paradigm is relatively simple: if you love God, he's gonna love you back. In fact, he loved you first. That being the case, when you pray he will be inclined to answer your requests.[8] He will do so in his own fashion; those familiar with the King James will remember that he gives you "every good and perfect gift." In other words, he's not a magic blessing machine; he's God.

He also expects you to ask, seek and knock. If you're serious about your prayers, you can be persistent, can't you? If you are persistent, and you're not getting answers, may I suggest one other little point? If the answers your prayers, do you give him the honor and glory as you should[9]? Your mother was right; you should always say please and thank you.

Keep His Commandment

John is quite specific here:

·         The first commandment he mentions is to "believed in his name." Put your confidence in him; do not trust the ways of the world, nor lean on your own understanding. The key point here is trust; you may say you trust him, but to your actions show it? For example, do you hoard your money when there are those in need?

·         The second is as stated above: love one another.

Summary

So then, here are the four test points:

·         Do you love one another in truth and in deed?

·         Does the world hate you?

·         Does God answer your prayers?

·         Do you keep his Commandments?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then please be assured, on the word of an apostle, that you are saved.



[1] The author has a mail note from a staff member to that effect.

[2] The author's wife feels that I may have oversimplified this, and that further thought for my health is required.

[3] Which is not to say that feeling that you are saved means that you're not.

[4] James 2:14-17

[5] Matthew 10:16-26

[6] Luke 6:22-23

[7] John 15:16-24

[8] John 15:7

[9] Psalm 50:15

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