A Christian leader recently asked me, “Why can’t we get all the Christians to grow?” He went on and explained that while some Christians are eager to grow; others are not too keen on being discipled or simply not willing to be committed. I’d like to point out three things for encouragement.
1) First of all, other churches even during the apostles’ time also had these problems. We read here about some of the mistaken ideas professing Christians had even in the early church. If there was problems back then during the time of the great apostles, then we shouldn't be too discouraged to have them now.
2) Secondly, Satan is a strategist. First, he tries to get people from believing. But if they believe, then he tries to keep God’s people from growing. This is why new Christians face special struggles just after they believe. Satan wants to discourage them from growing. When God’s people grow strong, Satan’s power gets weak. It’s a war. So if by simply inputting wrong conclusions into the minds of God’s people so to make them dull, stale and worldly, then he does. Call it spiritual terrorism if you want. He is out to destroy and kill. Wrong concepts can cause people to do all sorts of foolish things. Satan uses this ignorance of God’s Word to his advantage. There are deliberate attacks from the outside against the work we are doing. Jesus faced them. Paul faced them. We all will face this one’s opposition. We are winning and he doesn’t like it.
3) Thirdly, and most encouraging, God has designed His people for growth. Our new life much like our human bodies are designed to grow. Even though some people are not growing, this should not discourage us. It is not as if the principles of life are not at work. If because of malnutrition a person does not grow tall and strong, we should not blame the design. The problem is that the body did not gain what it needed to grow. When we are saved, we enter eternal lifethis is where the principle of growth takes place. Life always shows itself by its growth. This should give each one of us a great hope that we can grow.
If we do not know God and do not have this life, we can through Jesus Christ join this fellowship of life. We do not deserve to be part of such a great Lord, but we are stirred by His Spirit and His truth. We are loved and touched. Our eyes are open to our sins. We turn from them. We come by His grace and join His fellowship the church.
If we do know Christ, then we can get excited that God wants us not just to belong to His fellowship but to grow. Would you like to get into an amusement park and not go on anything? Would you like to have a nice new car and yet never use it? This is what it is like if we say we are a Christian, whether it has been for 1 year or 20, it matter not, and yet do not grow. People will look at you and really wonder why that ten-year-old drinks from a bottle or still wears diapers. Something is wrong. John in the following verses will speak about how a Christian is to grow. But it is this principle and possession of life that brings the properties of growth. John doesn’t immediately discuss this growth. He will, but he has a concern. And perhaps like that Christian leader, we are wondering what went wrong.
Insistence on Growth
Why is it that when a child isn’t healthy, we bring him to every doctor in town to figure out what is wrong. One main reason we do this is because we expect the child to be healthy and grow. No one rebukes you telling you that you should not be concerned about your child’s health. But what happens when Christians don’t grow spiritually? The reaction sometimes seems to be: reluctant, resistant and defensive. I suppose if these people voiced their thoughts aloud they might say,
“Why should I grow? I like being a misfit.”
“Let others have the love, joy and peace from growing in Christ; I want to go on and dry up like a spiritual prune.”
“I want a terrible marriage. Leave me alone.”
“My children are awful but that is just how I want them.”
“I like being angry and mean. Leave me alone!”
At times, the conclusions of our own actions can be startling if they are applied to our real lives. But this is how many Christians respond to all the hard efforts around them to grow. Perhaps you have a friend like that who just doesn’t want to grow. You can get that friend to occasionally come to church on Sunday. She never reads the Bible. She doesn’t pray at all except very important times. Or maybethis picture describes your own life.
The good part is that the life principle is at work even if we work against it. When we turn around at any point in our lives, we will find that we can grow, grow and thoroughly enjoy the growing process. Do you remember being young? I sure do. I delight in the times I could climb tall trees and jump from high surfaces.
John is going to do a little ‘brain-storming’ to get us thinking before he goes into the next section and shows us the actual process of Christian growth. Remember that the problem is not the principle of life. That fount of life is issued from our resurrected Lord, once dead to die for our sin and now alive to live in our lives. If you have any old spiritual doubts whether this is this is just a man-made religion rather than the living God at work, just test the Lord and you will see these principles of spiritual growth work!
Just before we go and see how John gets us thinking, let’s review why people aren’t growing. The problem will result from two reasons:
1) Spiritual malnutrition. Everyone to some degree has allowed unbiblical concepts to affect their lives rather than biblical truths. We can get full eating white bread but all the nutrition is stripped from it. To the degree they have stuffed themselves with these other notions about what is good, they will hold back proper growth. John is trying to shake us up so that you and I again will start perceiving things rightly and continue to grow as the rest. Some of us have been stubborn. Others ignorant. But the Lord wants to help us all grow.
2) Secondly, some people who think they have life really do not. There is no growth simply because there is no life. A great gardener can tend a plant, water it, give it all sorts of proper nutrients at the right amount and at the right time but never see growth in that plant. Why? It’s dead. There is no life principle. Jesus Himself warned us of this. Listen to Matthew 7:21-23,
“Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?'" And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'”
Fortunately, God welcomes us to be part of His family. He will help everyone that comes to Him to find spiritually enriching lives.
At this point we want to see what John specifically says about this issue. John is first going to show us the principle that will help us understand a key in understanding Christian growth and then present three different reasons professing Christians are not growing.
Premise: Designed to Grow (1 John 2:3)
“And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.”
Premise: Salvation leads to a true knowledge of God, which in turn produces a life reflecting His Person. Growth is defined by the way our lives are changed in God’s presence. Without growth, there is no true knowledge of God and therefore no salvation.
John in 1 John 1:5 just described God. He is that Holy One. There is no darkness in Him whatsoever. A Christian is defined by one that ‘has come to know Him.’ It is not defined as one which knows about God but knows Him. He is not talking about a confidence in going to heaven but in have met the Eternal One in such a way that your life is changes.
You see that is what John means. If our faith is genuine, then it leads us right into the presence of God where we are changed. The evil one knows about God and yet was not willing to obey. The difference with us is not the spiritual experiences or theology that we know but that we through faith and cleansing in Jesus Christ have met God. That marks us off and that life causes us to grow. It makes us want to know and obey His commandments. When we go by His commandments we are going by His Word and we more and more reflect His holiness.
John cares enough about us that he helps us reexamine our faith and make sure that we know the Lord. We will need to keep this purpose of John in mind as we read along in this book. Maybe we should ask you this question: Do you believe you are a Christian? What makes you a Christian? If so, how sure are you that you are a believer? Why and why not?
Let me summarize this principle and result conclusions and then take a closer look at three way John elaborates on this one theme. Salvation leads to a true knowledge of God, which in turn produces a life reflecting His Person. Growth is defined by the way our lives are changed in God’s presence. Spiritual growth is the way our ungodly behavior becomes more and more conformed to God’s ways. Without growth, there is no true knowledge of God and therefore no salvation. If a person is in the sun (the light), then he will reflect that with a tan. When we live in God’s presence, we show it by our love to keep God’s Word.
1 John 2:3-11
3 ¶ And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. 7 ¶ Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. 9 The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Introduction to 3 Professions
Starting in 2:4 John begins to uncover three main ways the evil one deceives these professing Christians. We see very clearly he is not talking about people outside the church but inside the church. They all profess some affiliation with the Christian faith. All three statements are based on his premise shared in 2:3.
John is being very deliberate in the way he points out these three areas. I am not contriving them but sharing my discoveries. The NIV unfortunately does not consistently translate the repeated statements. The NIV goes for style rather than accuracy. The NASB which strives to be more literal does capture the three repeated statements, “The one who says” which is said in verses 4, 6, 9. We might remember that in chapter one there was the repeated phrase “if we say.” Here in chapter 2 a different word for “say” is used. Actually the word used here is very familiar in the English language: legw. That is right. The same word that little children and not so little use to describe little attaching plastic building blocks. Legos are used to build castles, cars and all other sorts of things. In Greek the word legw has a range of meanings including: say, speak, teach, exhort, advise, command, direct, to point out with words. In summary, we should at least notice that the translation “say” is the weakest translation. We could use stronger words such as “the one who asserts ... or teaches.... or points out...” They are completely within the scope of this word legw. It seems that he is referring to those people who have some sort of ability with words. They might be teachers and is helping the church members to rightly examine their teachers over them. Clearly they have confidence enough about what they believe to influence others with their words. I have chosen the translation “profess.” Let’s analyze 3 professions of faith in Christ.
Clear professions are needed to strengthen our faith. I find that the clearer one can articulate his faith, the stronger it is. The reason for this is that the truth of God has become a fixed part of our lives. John, however, is highlighting the way that these professionswhat we say we believe, can actually come to deceive us. They wrongly strengthen our confidence. It is easier to deal with new Christians than those who are already come to the know the Lord because they often have wrong thoughts that they use to affirm their present choices. Simply said, they are poor disciples. In the next message, John will present before us a wonderful growth dynamic that is active in individual Christian’s life. But before he does this, he tries to work with those who are opposed to growth even though they are in the church. You might wonder how that can be. It is quite simple. How has your Christian life been? Is it noted for all the excitement, activity and challenge that growth brings? Or is your Christian life more ho-hum or ‘I have to go to church again’ king do life? If you are a true Christian, God wants to have you actively growing throughout your life. That is why this kind of examination is great. It helps us detect what those lies might be that have stilted our growth.
Each legw or profession mentioned has its errors and resulting dangers. Along with the proper lifestyle, our profession proves to be a mighty testimony. Without it, we can only be sure of hypocrisy. We can only detect the truth of one’s subjective experience of God by the products that come from it. If you have a factory near you that produces and ships out cookies, then you know it is a cookie factory no matter what it calls itself.