WHAT’S THE VERDICT?
A sermon on 1 John 5:1-9
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
January 10, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the mediation of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
These are the words of 1 John 5:1-2:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
Polycarp (c.59-c.155) is one of the most famous of the early Christian martyrs. Interestingly, he is considered to be the last surviving person to have personally known one of Christ’s apostles. He is thought to have been a student of the Apostle John, the author of today’s scripture text. Polycarp was chosen as the bishop of Smyrna and he was well-known throughout the early church community as a deeply compassionate man of great faith. He was also a tireless opponent of those who would try to distort the gospel message. He lived a long life, though he spent much of it hiding out from the Romans during times of great persecution. Eventually though, he was captured and put on trial in Smyrna.
At the outset of the trial, the judge offered him what amounted to a “plea deal.” (Such was the custom of the imperial authorities at the time.) The judge told Polycarp that, if he would deny Christ, blaspheme him, swear by the genius of Caesar, and light incense in honor of the gods, then his life would be spared. In response to the judge’s proposal, Polycarp replied, “For 86 years I have served him, and he has done me no wrong: how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?” He went on to say to the judge, “If you vainly suppose that I will swear by ‘the Genius of Caesar’ as you request, and pretend not to know who I am, listen carefully: I am a Christian. Now if you want to learn of the doctrine of Christianity, name a day and give me a hearing.”
In response, the judge duly sentenced Polycarp to be burned at the stake. Legend has it that, as the fire consumed the wood surrounding Polycarp’s body, the flames did not touch or hurt him. Furious that the flames had not burned him to death, the executioner ordered Polycarp to be stabbed to death with a dagger, which was done. And as the blood gushed from his body, it is said that the blood completely extinguished the flames surrounding him.1
Years ago, I remember that a popular topic for consideration to in sermons and Bible studies was, “If you were placed on trial and charged for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to
1 C. Douglas Weaver, A Cloud of Witnesses—Sermon Illustrations and Devotionals from the Christian Heritage (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 1993), 5 and www.ancientpages.com/2020/06/25/polycarp-burned-at-the-stake-and-pierced-with-a-dagger (Accessed January 7, 2021)
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convict you?” Such is the topic of discussion in today’s sermon and the question that I want you to consider—If you were placed on trial and charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?…
What is some of the evidence that the prosecution might offer against you?
Perhaps witnesses would be brought to the stand to testify that they have seen you go to church on Sunday morning. They would testify that you have been seen for years and years putting on your “Sunday best” and then leaving in your car to make it to church for the 11:00 Sunday morning worship service. That this has been a part of your routine as far as your neighbors could remember.
Well…simply going to church would not necessarily be enough evidence for a conviction. After all, people go to church for a lot of different reasons. Some people are found in church on Sunday because they really do love the Lord and desire to worship him and pray with other Christians. But not everyone does. There are lots of reasons why people attend church…
Some come out of a sense of habit. It is just the way that they were brought up and, if they miss church, then they feel a bit guilty…So they come on to church every Sunday, whether or not they f eel like it. I know of others who come to church because they believe that it helps them to make business contacts and to network in the community…
Others come to church for the social aspect. It is a place where they can see their friends and catch up on the latest news and gossip. I get that. I have been involved in church my whole life—both as a church staff member and sometimes as a member. And I would have to say that some of the nicest, most decent people that I have ever met are some of the church members that I have come to know.
But let’s tell the truth: Not everyone who comes to church is that way. The church has its share—maybe even MORE than its share—of crackpots, cranks, and hard-to-get-along-with people in its ranks. It does not seem that the love of God has had much impact in the lives of these people. I have known plenty of them in church over the years. And I bet that you probably have too…
There is a story that is told about the great 20th Century Christian author and scholar C. S. Lewis that goes something like this. It seems that Lewis was approached with a question from one of his readers. The man asked, “Dr. Lewis, if I become a Christian, will it make me a better person?” Dr. Lewis replied, “Yes, of course it will.”
Then the man went on to explain the reason for his question. He said, “Dr. Lewis, there is a woman who lives in my neighborhood. She is one of the meanest, most disagreeable people that I have ever met. No one likes her and we all wish that she would move away. She yells at the neighborhood kids and dogs if they ever stray into her yard. No one can hold a conversation with her because she complains about almost everything, and sometimes uses language that would make a sailor blush. She’s a know-it-all that no one wants to be around. She’s always stirring up some trouble in the neighborhood
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about this or that. And yet…every Sunday morning, I have watched her leave her house and walk to the nearest church. And she does this almost every single Sunday. I have lived in the neighborhood for almost twenty years now and I have hardly ever known her to miss. If being a Christian is supposed to make you a better person, then why is this woman still so difficult to get along with after all these years of church-going?”
It is said that Lewis took a long draught off of his pipe and then replied, “Well, God has further to go with some of us than he does with others. And could you imagine what this woman would be like if she hadn’t been going to church all these years?”…2 The point is that church attendance is a good thing…it is a very good thing…but in and of itself, church attendance is not conclusive proof that one really is a Christian…
Perhaps another piece of evidence that could be considered is an examination of one’s bank statements and financial records. Evangelist Billy Graham was once quoted as saying, “Give me five minutes with a person’s checkbook and I will tell you what their priorities are.”
What Graham said simply echoed the teaching of our Lord in Matthew 6:19-21. In those verses, you may remember that Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not beak in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” A pattern of regular giving to the church and to other ministries that help to spread and proclaim the Kingdom of God here on earth would surely be evidence of one’s faith. And the more generous the giving, the pronounced the faith.
Some might point to lifestyle as a way of proving whether or not one is a follower of Jesus. It is kind of like a version of what many of us were taught in church years ago about Christian conduct: “I don’t smoke, and I don’t chew, and I don’t run with them that do.” It might be that one is a teetotaler, abstaining from all forms of alcohol. It might be that one shuns all kinds of recreational drugs. It might be that one doesn’t “cuss.” It might be that one refuses to watch all R-rated or sexually explicit movies. It might be that one refuses to get involved in questionable activities that their friends encourage them to do. Or it might include being nice to people. Or it might be to avoid any number of other things that someone considers to be “sin.” Some believe that they are Christians because they do—or don’t do, as the case may be—those kinds of things.
Again, let me be clear about this. None of those things are bad in and of themselves. Over and over again in the New Testament, Christians are called to live their lives worthy of the name of Christ. One of many examples to be found in the New Testament is Colossians 3, which tells us, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things…Put to death therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature; sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry…You must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips….As God’s chosen
2 I read this story about C. S. Lewis several years ago but I cannot remember the source.
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people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
What the Apostle Paul writes to us in that passage is a list of qualities that Christians should exhibit in their daily lives. But in the final analysis, simply displaying those characteristics does not make one a Christian. Since that is the case, then the question might be asked, “Okay then, if those things by themselves do not prove whether or not one is a Christian, then what does? How can it be proved that one is a Christian?”
The Apostle John gives us the answer in today’s sermon text. 1 John 5:1-2 says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” John says that everyone who believes in Jesus is born of God. And if one loves God, then one loves God’s children as well.
Do these words sound kind of familiar? They sound a lot like the Great Commandment that Jesus talked about, don’t they? In fact, one commentator has written that this is the only place in the New Testament, outside of the Gospels, where the Great Commandment is given with equal stress placed on both parts.
And what is “The Great Commandment?” Matthew records that Jesus was asked that very question. And in reply, he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”3
Loving God and loving neighbor…Those two things are the essence of the Christian faith, according to Jesus. It is the most important reality in what it means to follow the Savior. But even though it is central to what it means to be a Christian, and it really sounds simple, the truth of the matter is that it is not always an easy thing to do, is it? Peter Rhea Jones has written,
Some of us might prefer to love God and be excused from loving those whom God begot. It is far more challenging to love fellow Christians than to love God. Besides that, some genuine saints have been known to be obnoxious. In Christian family life, believers are invited not only to love their parents but their sisters and brothers. Sibling rivalry sometimes robs the joy of loving within the family system. Christianity happens in relationships, not just relating to God from the alone to the Alone, not just a cell phone call to the celestial city.4
3 Matthew 22:37-39.
4 Peter Rhea Jones, “1, 2, & 3 John” Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2009). 219. Emphasis mine.
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So there you have it. What is the evidence that can unquestionably convict one of being a Christian? In today’s text, John discusses the distinguishing marks of what it means to be a Christian. He leaves no doubt that the most important characteristics of being a Christian are loving God and loving those in the church.
What about you? If you were on trial for being a Christian, what kind of testimony would be brought against you? What kind of evidence would be presented to show that you were indeed a follower of Jesus? Could there be enough evidence presented to secure a conviction?
What’s the verdict?
To God alone be the glory! Amen.
WHAT’S THE VERDICT?