The Third Sunday of Easter April 14, 2013

INI

Better

1 John 3:1-7

Scripture Readings

Acts 3:11-21
Luke 24:36-49

Hymns

198, 206(1-4), 366(1-4), 207(1-2)

Grace, mercy and peace by multiplied to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dear Fellow Christians:

If you were told that you could have just one thing in this life, that one thing that you would pick today would probably be different than what you would have picked, say, ten years ago. You would, in other words, probably choose many different things throughout the various stages in your life. Life has a way of magnifying the needs of the present. You’ve perhaps heard a child pleading with a parent, “If you just let me have this I will never ask for another thing as long as I live.” It can be just about anything—a dog, a bike, a car, a stereo, a pet monkey—whatever captures the imagination at that particular moment. That sort of longing never ends. There will always be something else, something more, something more urgently “needed.” There will always be something that suddenly seems better in one’s eyes.

The great irony here is that you and I already have that one thing. What we lack is only understanding and appreciation for what is already ours. What is even more amazing is that what we already have really isn’t just better, it’s the best possible thing anyone could ever have or possess, and it’s yours forever.

We hear just what that “best thing” is in our text today which is found in the first epistle of John, the third chapter:

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!Therefore the world does not know us,because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.

So far the very Word of God. God Himself has given these words to you, and herein offers you wisdom, strength, and comfort. You are, therefore, blessed each time you hear God’s Word and treasure it. To that end we pray, “Sanctify us by Your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.

Did you catch the “best thing” that we already have? Hear it again: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God![v.1]

Don’t miss the message of these incredible words. Don’t let them just “pass through” without hitting something solid. Make them a part of you—the best part of you. You are, according to the divinely inspired words of our text, a child of God. Our text goes on: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.[v.2] Only when the full import of that truth sinks in and becomes an inseparable part of you are you ready to move on—and you do want to move on. The fact that you are a child of God means something, not just to you but to everyone with whom you come into contact. Because of what God has made us, we have a God-given desire for better—ever and always better.

There is just something about that word, “better,” that is uplifting, comforting, encouraging. Life’s problems don’t typically get fixed all at once. The solution is most often a trend or process. “Better” says that the process is headed in the right direction.

Since you and I are children of God, we are part of a family. Part of our responsibility as members of a family is to warn each other when the trend is headed in the wrong direction—when something is getting worse instead of better. The trend we need to point out today is that we seem to have developed a slouch toward mediocrity—personally and collectively. Call it “an aspiration toward average”—which is pretty much the exact opposite of “better.”

This mindset is finding its way also into our churches and into our personal walk with our Lord. It seems to have started gradually, like fungus growing in dark places. Somehow it just gradually became a part of us. This “aspiration toward average” is the tendency to be mediocre, or just a little bit below average. We see the trend in the lack of any sort of depth in what comes out of Hollywood, in the grades our children are comfortable with in school, in the way many employees carry out their work, and in the products companies produce. Despite the image that major corporations like to portray in their ad campaigns, the pursuit of excellence has been replaced with “do as little as possible to get by—just so long as we are still making buckets of money.”

Christians are not immune. Christian churches seem to have an ever increasing number of members who desire to be average or below average attendees, average or below average contributors, average or below average Bible readers, average or below average witnesses and church workers. Nor should we imagine that the problem is “out there.” It is here among us. It is here within us. You and I often seem to be content with dedicating only a below average portion of our lives to God and His work. It seems that we would be happier if everyone would do a little bit less so that we, in turn, could do less and still be average. This tendency afflicts everyone from the pastor on up. Why?

One contributing factor is that society has lowered its expectations. When you lower your expectations, you usually get even less. Parents expect from their children only as much as they expect from themselves. The result, again, is that they usually get less, and the trend toward mediocrity has begun. Children pick up on this message as clearly as if it were tattooed on mom and dad’s foreheads. The message is that mom and dad will expect no more in conduct, propriety, and performance than they themselves produced. We say we want more for our children and then unwittingly urge them toward less. What we then produce is a generation that goes to church slightly less than we did, works slightly less than we did on church work days, contributes slightly less, pulls less than its own weight, and centers its existence slightly less around the Word of God. Satan loves the gradual deterioration. He urges parents into the trap with guilt. “How can you demand from your child what you did not do? How can you punish your child for what you got away with? How can you require what you were not willing to give?”

Nor are things getting better. They are getting worse. We continue to plumb new lows. The current message is: “Do not…and when you do…” Examples abound: “Do not engage in activities reserved for married people, and when you do—as we fully expect you will—use protection.” “Do not drink when you are under age, and when you do, don’t drive, and when you drive, be careful.” Children tend to pick up the message that when parents say “Don’t!” they really mean, “Don’t let me know about it,” or “Don’t get caught.” God help us to banish such thoughts and attitudes. God called us to be better.

But isn’t this the sort of thing that John was promoting earlier in this same letter? Isn’t he condoning an attitude of mediocrity and acceptance over against sin when he first says: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin” and then follow it almost immediately with: “But if anyone does sin…?(1 John 2:1). Was He really saying, in effect, “Don’t get caught!” or “Try to cut down a bit on the sin thing”?

To believe such a thing is to understand neither the Gospel, nor sin, nor John, nor this Epistle, nor indeed Christianity itself. Above all it represents a profound misunderstanding of our call and responsibility.

Christianity is about excellence in every aspect of life. It’s not uncommon for non-Christians to accuse us of believing we are better than everyone else. It’s hard to know how to respond to that. Maybe it’s as simple as, “No, but we try to be.” Our text gives us a sense of this when it says, “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.[v.3] In chapter 1 of this Epistle John says, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth(1 John 1:5-6).

How beautifully the “disciple that Jesus loved” here phrases the distinction between good and evil—between the child of God and the child of Satan. God is light. Those who want to walk as children of God want to walk in the light. Darkness and light are absolutely incompatible. They cannot coexist. If something is dark, it is not light. If something is light, it is not dark. We are children of Light! As such it is to be expected that we want to have absolutely nothing to do with darkness. How then could we possibly read these words and imagine that John was somehow winking at sin? How could we imagine that the subtle message he was really trying to convey to us—like some modern, permissive parent—is to go ahead and sin, but to be careful, and maybe try to cut back a bit, and don’t get caught?

John saw the terrible consequences of sin with his own eyes. He helped lower from the cross the consequences of man’s sin. This too is what he spoke about earlier in this Epistle. John was an eyewitness of Jesus Christ crucified for sin—our sin, all sin. There is therefore no such thing as an unimportant sin. A terrible price had to be paid. That means that there can be no place in the Christian heart for anything less than a loathing of all that is evil and a continual striving for excellence.

It is just now that you might well hear that little voice whispering in your ear, “Yes, but you do sin. There’s just no getting around that fact. And what is more, you are probably going to sin again. As much as you hate to admit it, you don’t for a moment really believe that you can go even one whole day without sinning.” And then you begin to wonder, “What does this fact tell me about myself? Does this mean that I am, because of my sins, of the darkness’ rather than of the light?≵

If that were true, then who could possibly be saved? If God’s Church is not made up of sinners, who would the members be? That’s also why our text speaks as it does of “those who make a practice of sinning.” To make a practice of sinning is to give up and give over; to cede the battle and to give up the struggle. To simply quit the struggle and to embrace sin is a mark of unbelief. However to fail, even repeatedly, in the midst of the ongoing struggle is characteristic of Christianity. But “better” is still supposed to play a role here as we strive for the perfection we will obviously never reach this side of heaven.

Christian excellence is not about perfect conduct, it is about the perfect payment made by Jesus Christ. It is about loathing that sin from which we are cleansed and struggling against temptation every moment of every day we walk this earth.

John knew both the horror of sin, and he knew the payment for sin. Sin, John knew, does not now damn us. Unbelief damns us. In our text we find the proof: “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.[v.3 ESV] That now is the standard to which we aspire—never to try to save ourselves by our works, but to be exactly like the One who did take away our sins by his works.

Looking continually to Jesus we now understand how darkness and light are incompatible. According to that new man within us, we simply cannot know and believe what Jesus has done and won for us, and still want to go on crucifying him all over again by impenitence, betrayal, or capitulation to sinful living. As Christians, the new man that we put on day by day yearns within us to walk always and only in the light—more than that, that new creation within each Christian longs to drive out all spiritual mediocrity, weakness, and laziness and to labor with unrestrained zeal and vigor in holy service to our Savior God. We want ever better.

It is indeed a great comfort—in fact it is Life itself—to know that “we have One who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One(1 John 2:1 ESV). God, for Jesus’ sake, has forgiven our sins. That same Jesus also once said, “Go, and sin no more.”

Learn to recognize in yourself the temptation toward Christian mediocrity, and to acknowledge, day by day, the tremendous evil and the eternal danger of all sin. Then look to the perfect love of our Savior—a love that moved him to sacrifice Himself to wash us clean in the sight of our Heavenly Father—and be comforted. Praise be to our God, who has called us out of the darkness of sin and death and into the light of his love. Walk in that light, and in the excellence of service that is indeed fitting for children of our Creator God. Amen.

—Pastor Michael J. Roehl


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