First Mennonite Church
October 21, 2018
We Belong to God
Text: 1John 4:1-6
The relevance of these words seem never to fade away with the passing of time. Those words were of great importance to the readers of the Apostle John as they are to us some 2,000 years later. John, the Elder, was concerned with what was happening in the church of his day. The Elder’s Christian friends needed to be warned of the dangerous voices vying for their heart and loyalty. False prophets were out there. Anti-Christs were out there with the only purpose of leading astray the people of faith. And some of these were people who had been members of the church. These were people who had broken bread, along with other believers, in celebration of the Lord’s Supper. These were people who had, at some point in time, suffered the same persecutions the church continued to suffer. But then, they not only fell into the grips of false teaching, but became messengers of falsehood and everything counter to the Spirit and truth of Jesus Christ.
John made clear the difference between those who follow Jesus and those who oppose him. Those who follow Jesus walk in the light, while those who go against him walk in darkness. Those who follow Christ keep his commandments, while those who have strayed disobey the commandment of Christ. Those who follow Christ love their fellow brothers and sisters and do what is righteousness, while those who advocate against the Incarnate Christ hate their fellow human beings and continue in the path of sin and unrighteousness.
John had a very clear message and reminder to those who remained in the faith: You are from God (v. 4) and we are from God (v. 6). And this message, too, never loses its relevance and truth with the passing of time. Thus, we can confidently say, “We belong to God. We are from God.” But precisely because the church is from God and belongs to him, sets her apart from any other human institution or organization. The church is not a club of like-minded people. The church is not say, YMCA, nor an organization for religious recreation or entertainment. The church, when gathered, according to the Elder John has the purpose of “testing the spirits to see whether they come from God.” This exercise of testing the spirits requires that each of us would have trained the muscles of our understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It requires that we must have known Christ and must have an ongoing indwelling of him and his word through his Spirit. Also, in the process of testing the spirits, we must be ready to deal with the hard questions regarding our faith and Christian practices. We must not subdue to the temptation of believing that our belief system should not be questioned. We should not think that we have gotten to the full knowledge of Christ. But most of all, we must not confuse the gospel of Jesus Christ with ideologies that often hijack religious language or which even use the Bible to promote themselves. We must be critical about the voices we listen to or that call us to follow them.
In this time and place there are all kinds of voices vying for our attention, heart, and following. And we are not only encouraged to follow these voices, but also to promote them. And whoever chooses not to subscribe to a particular voice is not only seen with suspicion but is shamed for not following one.
John’s criteria for testing the spirits is very clear: any proclamation that affirms the humanity of Jesus comes from God. And any spirit that denies the humanity of Jesus is false gospel. In John’s time there was a religious group that came out of the Christian church that denied the full humanity of Jesus Christ. The group called Docetists taught that Jesus Christ had human form but the he was not a real human being. In light of that claim, Jesus’ suffering and death were not real. And as a consequence of Jesus’ unreal human nature, even his resurrection could not be considered real. Docetist viewed human nature, human life as something unimportant. The Docetists disregarded the importance of concrete expression of true spirituality, such as loving their fellow brothers and sisters and of speaking the truth. They gave high importance to prayer, fasting, and prophecy. But John instructed his Christian brothers and sisters how to distinguish between that which could dress up as gospel and that which was authentic demonstration of spirituality. In other words John was telling his friends that not all captivating preaching nor every version of spirituality is true gospel message. For John, the true gospel is not only the affirmation of Jesus having come in the flesh, but also a gospel message that affirms the value of human life. “God is love,” says John, “And those who abide in love abide in God and God in them” (1Jn. 4:16).
In chapter three of this book, John writes: How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action (3:17-18).
My dear brothers and sisters, maybe we might wonder if Docetic voices still exist today. Can it be possible to find modern Docetist preaching only a spiritual Christ? Or did the Docetist only exist in the times of John, the Elder? I want to tell you that there are strong voices of modern Doceticts today. These voices call for prayers, morality, personal responsibility as means to improve the human condition. But they are not concerned with the real human needs. They proclaim a love that is empty of practical demonstration of empathy. They proclaim love that is selective about its object, which contrasts the love of Christ, who loved without preference. This modern-day Docetism denies the real Christ, the Son of God who cared for the needy, the hungry and the poor. They deny the Christ who came in human flesh and who suffered and died on the cross. But they also negate the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. This kind of Docetism prefers to look the other side instead of the one who suffers and is in need.
The other kind of Docetist we have today are those who propose that fullness of life can be attained if people are only given the opportunity to develop their full potential, through education, enlightenment and freedom of choice. They see that fullness of life can be achieved apart from the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. This kind of Docetism believes that salvation of the human race and of the world can be secured without the Crucified Lord of heavens.
And of these two version of Docetism we must be wary, not only to embrace their doctrine but much more to become their preachers too.
In a much narrower point of view, let us take a look at ourselves. Let us remember that it was to the faithful that John was addressing his words of advice. And this is what John says: You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6
We are of God and have overcome the Docetists of today. That is because, greater is the Christ who is in us that the anti-Christs who are in the world. One test to that is through our speech and matters of conversation. It should be that when we speak from the point of view of Christ, the Docetist of today should find us troublesome. But if our speech and conversation resembles theirs and is agreeable with them, that should be of great concern for us. It could be that we have embraced the message of the modern Docetists. As John says, We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
In this time and age, may the Lord’s Spirit give us wisdom and a spirit of discernment. May we always remember that our primary task regarding the voices from outside is to test the spirits. May the Lord open our spiritual ears to be able to test the spirits so that we may never become their prey and much less, participants of falsehood, disguised in the name of Christ who came in human form. Amen!