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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:The gospel of true communion with God through Jesus Christ
Text:1 John 1:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Added:2014-03-01
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Old BoP:

Ps. 92: 1, 6

Ps. 15: 1 – 3

Hymn 54: 1 – 5

Ps. 119: 1 – 5

Ps. 32: 1, 2

 

Scripture reading:          1 John 1: 1 – 2: 17

Text:                            1 John 1: 1 – 7

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Communion with God                        

Ps. 92: 1, 6

Ps. 15: 1 – 3

Hymn 54: 1 – 5

Ps. 119: 1 – 5

Ps. 32: 1, 2

 

Scripture reading:          1 John 1: 1 – 2: 17

Text:                            1 John 1: 1 – 7

 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

Many people call themselves Christian while they live like the world.

You will find this not only among Lutherans and Charismatics and many Evangelicals; it is also becoming increasingly common in many churches that still call themselves Reformed.    

Such church members boast that they discovered “Christian liberty” while they themselves have become slaves of sin.

 

In this context it happens that many try to adjust God’s Word to suite their own desires.  

They do not want to live according to God’s law and commandments.   They rather invent for themselves their own style of living, and they reinterpret God’s Word to suite their new lifestyle.

Their new “Christian ethics” seems to be very “free”, but not very holy.

 

Their new lifestyle is not characterised by humble obedience to God’s commandments, but a self-willed way of life according to their own fancy and preference.  

Yes, they confess that they are saved by grace alone, but their lives are without God’s sanctifying grace unto holiness.  

 

Now, the apostle John had exactly such people in mind when he wrote this epistle.   

Throughout this epistle he constantly places the true gospel over against distortions of the gospel.  

There were false teachers who proclaimed a false gospel: salvation without sanctification; fellowship with God without obedience to His commandments.

The apostle also addresses other errors, but this is the main error against which he writes: a lawless gospel; a gospel that boasts of God’s grace in Christ but without sanctification; communion with God without obedience and holiness.

 

Over against such a false gospel, the apostle now sets forth the true gospel.   He describes our new life through Christ as a life of love in obedience to God’s commandments.

True fellowship with God, he says, can be seen in a new life of holiness.   Communion with God manifests itself in a new life of love as prescribed by God’s law.

 

If someone does not live a holy life according to God’s commandments, then he simply does not know God. 

 

“If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” – 1: 6

 

“…by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” – 2: 3

 

So then, true fellowship with God is seen and manifested in obedience to His commandments.  

Dear congregation, through our Lord Jesus Christ God delivers us from sin unto holiness.

The fullness of life and joy is found in communion with the Father through His Son Jesus Christ.   

This holy fellowship with God is not just a mystic feeling in our heart.   Our new life in fellowship with the Father, which is in and through our Lord Jesus Christ, finds concrete expression in a new life of obedience to God’s commandments.

 

That is the Jesus, and that is the gospel regarding Him, which the apostle now proclaims to us.

 

I proclaim this gospel to you with the theme…

The gospel of true communion with God through Jesus Christ

 

We will consider:

  1. That through Jesus Christ we have communion with the Father  
  2. That God is light
  3. That those who have communion with God walk in the light

In the first place we note that…

Through Jesus Christ we have communion with the Father 

 

The apostle starts this letter by stating that he and the other apostles proclaim to us the Word of life – verse 1.

This Word of life was from the beginning.

He became flesh and dwelt among us, so that we heard Him speak, saw Him with our eyes, touched Him with our hands.

He came from the Father.   He was with the Father from the beginning.   In Him eternal life in communion with the Father has been manifested to us.

 

Without Jesus Christ, the Son of God, no one can have communion with the Father.   Life in communion with the Father is through Him.   He died for our sins in order to reconcile us with God.   Through Him the Father adopts us as His children.   Therefore life in communion with the Father is only in and through Jesus Christ.

 

The apostles are ear and eyewitnesses of this gospel.   They themselves saw Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who appeared in the flesh.  

            “…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you…” – verse 3

 

They are not making up their own gospel.    They are not inventing their own message.   They declare as faithful witnesses the authentic gospel as they received it from Christ Himself.  

 

Now, the apostles proclaim this gospel, he says, with the purpose…

           

“…that you also may have fellowship with us…” – verse 3

 

Through the preaching of the apostles, through their witness and proclamation regarding Jesus Christ, we join them in their fellowship with God.

Through Jesus Christ we have fellowship with the Father, but the means by which we receive this fellowship is through the preaching.

The apostle says that they – that is he together with the other apostles – proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in order that we, through their preaching, may have fellowship with them (and with all the saints) in their fellowship with God – verse 3.

 

We have to note this carefully.

He states the purpose of their preaching.   It is that we may be joined together in fellowship with God, and that by this fellowship with God we may receive life and the fullness of joy.

 

“…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” – verse 3

 

You would expect that he would say: “We proclaim this gospel for the sake of your salvation.”   And in fact he is saying it.   But instead of describing the purpose of the gospel preaching in terms of salvation he describes it in terms of fellowship.

Salvation is the restoration of fellowship with God.   Life itself is fellowship with God.  To be reconciled to the Father through His Son Jesus Christ and to live in fellowship with Him – that is life!   That is salvation.   That is the fullness of joy. 

Our highest good and the fullness of joy, yes, the fullness of life itself, is to have fellowship with God; communion with Him.

 

Communion with God means to know Him and to live in fellowship with Him.

Eternal life is to know God – John 17: 3  

Yes, true life is to live in holy covenant communion with the Father through Christ.

 

But note how this union or communion with God also involves the communion of saints.   The apostle says that through this gospel we receive communion with them – that is: with the apostles who proclaim this message.  

When we have fellowship with God through Christ, we also have fellowship with those who preached this gospel to us, and with all the saints who believe this gospel.

 

The means by which we receive this fellowship is the preaching.   Our unity with each other in the church flows from the preaching of this gospel.   When we believe the preaching of the apostles, this unity in the truth, this unity in Christ, binds us together so that we also have true fellowship with each other.

 

Dear congregation, our fellowship with each other flows from, and depends on, our fellowship with God, but our fellowship with God comes by means of the preaching.

We are united in the same Lord by believing the same gospel.

 

If true fellowship in the communion of saints is lacking, then it is because fellowship with God is lacking.   And then the problem is not solved by organising many activities in the church, or by doing more things together, or by this or that cure.   If the communion and fellowship of the saints are lacking, then there is only one reason: a lack of true fellowship with God.

 

True fellowship with each other cannot be stirred up by this or that activity, or by this or that approach.   The communion of saints does not consist in a superficial social manmade togetherness, but flows from our spiritual fellowship with the Father through Christ.  

True fellowship and union among the members of the congregation can only come by receiving the preaching of God’s Word

 

As the apostle says in chapter 4: 6:

 

“We are of God.   He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us.   By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”

 

Those who receive the witness and proclamation of the apostles, those who listen to the preaching, know God.   If anyone rejects the preaching, he does not know God.  

And thus, brothers and sisters, our union and fellowship with God are also evident in the way we receive the preaching, for this is the means by which true fellowship with God and with each other is established.

 

If we truly receive the preaching of this gospel then we truly have fellowship with God and with each other.

 

But now, the false teachers also spoke about the gospel and fellowship with God.   And many confessed that they know God while they lived like unbelievers.   Therefore the apostle now proceeds to identify the true gospel and true fellowship with God over against the false gospel and pretended fellowship with God.

He argues that it is impossible to walk in darkness while having fellowship with God, for God is light and there is no darkness in Him.   He cannot have communion with darkness, because He is light. 

We note this in the second place, that…

God is light

 

“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.” – verse 5

 

What does it mean that God is light?

The word light itself can have quite a broad meaning, but here in this epistle the apostle places light over against sin, which he calls darkness.    He describes a sinful life as walking in darkness, and on the other hand he describes a holy life in obedience to God’s commandments as walking in the light.

In this context the contrast between light and darkness is a contrast between holiness and sin.  

 

When he says here in this context that God is light and there is no darkness in Him, he speaks of God’s holiness.

God is perfectly holy and without any sin; there is no darkness in Him.

 

This is the authentic gospel, the message which the apostle John and the other apostles received.   The God with whom we are united through Christ is a holy God.

 

This is placed over against a false gospel where the holiness of God is either ignored or compromised in order to make room for a sinful life.

 

So then, in this context light refers to all things holy and pure.  

God is light, and everything that is called darkness is separated from Him.   There can be no fellowship between God and darkness.   There can be no fellowship between God and evil.   His very being makes it impossible to have any connection with sin – for: there is no darkness in Him at all.

 

The point is this: if God is light, then a life in fellowship with Him will also reflect His holiness.   Our new life in fellowship with God is characterised by His holiness, and it is seen by a new obedience to His holy law.   

 

The apostle Paul also uses the words light and darkness in the same way.   Fornication, uncleanness, and all transgression of the law, he calls darkness, and says:

 

“…you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.   Walk as children of light…”

 

And over against the old life in darkness he puts the new life of obedience, which he calls walking in the light, walking in all goodness, in righteousness and in truth – Eph. 5: 3 – 9. 

 

Dear congregation, through Christ we have fellowship with God.   But who is this God with whom we have fellowship, and what is His nature?   How is this God with whom we have fellowship?    God is light and there is no darkness in Him at all.   We have communion with a God who is perfectly holy, who has no communion with sin.

 

The conclusion which the apostle draws from this is that it is impossible to live a sinful life and have communion with God at the same time.   If God is light, then it follows that those who have fellowship with Him walk in the light and obey His commandments.   If someone does not obey His commandments He does not know God and have no communion with Him, for true fellowship with this holy God is manifested in a holy and obedient life that reflects and radiates His holiness.  

 

Congregation, to understand the gospel we need to know who God is.   He saves sinners, but He has no communion with sinners in their sin.   In order to have communion with us He cleanses us from all our sin.   Only through the blood and Spirit of Christ can we have fellowship with this holy God.    By the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ we are washed from our sins and by His Spirit we are sanctified and purified in order that we may live in true communion with Him who is pure and holy in all His being.   

 

When Christ unites us to this God, the radiance of His light also reflects in our lives.   And the more we grow in communion with this God, in whom there is no darkness, the more we flee from darkness.   The more we have fellowship with Him, the more we become a light in this dark world, reflecting the holiness and righteousness of our God.

 

We note this in the third place

The effect of our fellowship with God

 

“If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.   But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

 

Brothers and sisters, our fellowship with God is proven by a holy life.   A holy life is the result of fellowship with God, for God sanctifies all who are His.   Those who belong to Him through Christ He also raises with Christ to a new life with Him and unto Him.    Where there is faith in Christ there is also sanctification through Christ.

 

But note the way in which the apostle expresses this here in our text.

If anyone lives in darkness – if anyone continues to live in his sin – he has no communion with God.

There is no union between light and darkness, and thus it follows that there must be separation between God and us as long as we walk in darkness.   God hates sin; He cannot bear sin before His eyes.  God hates all the workers of iniquity – Psalm 5.

 

But if we walk in His light, then our union with Him is proven by our conformity to Him.

 

But there were false teachers who denied this.

The congregations were indeed having a fierce struggle against false teachers and all kinds of errors.   In Chapter 2: 26 the apostle says:

 

            “These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you”.

 

Again he says:

           

“Little children, let no one deceive you – 3: 7.

 

And again:

 

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone into the world” – 4: 1.

 

It becomes clear that throughout this letter the apostle is declaring the truth of the gospel over against a false gospel.  Throughout he does not only state the true doctrine in the positive, but places it in absolute terms directly over against false teachings.

 

Now, the false doctrine which he attacks first is that someone can have communion with God while walking in darkness.  

Throughout this letter this remains one of the most important themes, that God is light, and that those who have fellowship with Him, walks in the light.   In fact, in this short letter 68 verses are devoted to this theme, namely our new life of obedience in communion with God.   Throughout He describes this life in fellowship with God as a life in accordance to God’s commandments, and every time he puts it over against a life in darkness, which he describes as a life contrary to God’s commandments (1:5-7; 2:3-17; 2:28 – 3:24; 4:7 – 5:3 and 5:16-21). 

 

“If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” – verse 6

 

It is evident that he who obeys God’s commandments has fellowship with God.  

And it is evident that he who does not obey God’s commandments do not have communion with God.   True communion with God is seen and proven by a new life of holiness in conformity to God’s holiness and obedience to His holy will.  

The apostle repeats this throughout the whole letter.   He says:

 

“By this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, ‘I know Him’, and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him…He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” – 2: 3, 4, 6.

 

Who is he that knows the Lord?   Everyone who keeps His commandments.   Who has fellowship with Him?   He whose fellowship with God is proven by a new life of obedience.

That is the hallmark of salvation; that is the fruit of true communion with God.

 

He repeats it again:

 

“Whoever abides in Him does not sin.   Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him” – 3: 6

 

And again:

 

“Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” – 3: 9

 

He continues to repeat this:

 

“Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him…” – 3: 24.

 

And again:

 

            “…this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” – 5: 3

 

And again:

 

            “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin…” – 5: 18.

 

He repeats it over and over again to confirm this gospel: Whoever has communion with God obeys His commandments.   If you know God, and if you abide in Him, your life will reflect the radiance of His light.

 

“In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God…” – 3: 10.

 

Dear congregation, is this a legalistic presentation of the gospel?   No, it is the authentic gospel which the apostles received from Christ Himself.  

If you find this message legalistic it is because you have been deceived by a false gospel.

 

Christ did not remove the guilt of our sin in order that we may continue in sin.  

That would be no gospel at all.   If we were united to a God who has fellowship with our sin, then there would be no deliverance from darkness, no hope and no gospel!   The message of joy, the message of hope and glory, is that we are united to a God who is perfectly pure and holy, totally separate from all darkness, and that through Christ we live in communion with Him in the light and the glory of His perfection.    We even become partakers of His nature – 2 Peter 1: 4.  

Therefore our joy is complete.   Holy fellowship with God and conformity to His holiness is the fulfilment of all our desire.   

 

Is that your desire?  

What do you reckon, what is true life?   What is true light and joy?  

Is it not to live in fellowship with such a God?   

This is the glory unto which Christ restores us.  

 

You see then, brothers and sisters, how the apostle proclaims this gospel in such a way that it has to exclude a false gospel.   The false gospel proclaimed by false teachers, which he addresses here, is the heresy that you can have fellowship with God while living in sin.  

 

Dear congregation, such a false gospel is a real danger to the church.   It has always been, and it still is.  

 

Also the other apostles warn us against the same danger.   Think for example of the teaching of the apostle Peter where he warns us against false teachers whom he describes as lawless men “having eyes full of adultery that cannot cease from sin”.   “They have a heart trained in covetous practices…”  Their gospel appeals to “the lustful desires of sinful nature” (NIV).   While they promise liberty to others, they themselves are slaves of corruption.  

That is how the apostle Peter describes these false teachers in 2 Peter chapter 2.  It is people who speak of Christian liberty, while they are slaves of their own sinful desires.

 

Or we may think of the apostle Jude where he says:

 

“…certain men crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness…” –  Jude: 4.

 

They turn the grace of God into lawlessness. 

 

The apostle Paul says that this heresy will be characteristic of the last days:

 

“…know this”, he says, “that in the last days perilous times will come:   For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power…” – 2 Tim. 3: 1 – 5.

 

He is not speaking about heathens; he speaks about the church.   He speaks about people who have the outward form of godliness, religious people, but the power of true godliness is missing.   He gives it as a description of the last days, the time in which we are living.   And the Lord says that this will increasingly be so in the last days.  The last days will be characterised by such apostasy in the church.   Church members who call themselves Christian will only have the outward form of religion, while their walk of life will be a denial of the power of Christ’s resurrection in those who believe.

 

It is that false gospel which the apostle John now powerfully refutes:  

 

“If we say that we have fellowship with God, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.   But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…”

 

The words “with one another” refer in this case to our fellowship with God, and His fellowship with us.    If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with Him and He with us.

The fellowship with one another – God with us and we with Him – includes indirectly also our fellowship with one another in the communion of saints.   If we have fellowship with God we also have fellowship with one another.   But when someone lives in darkness this fellowship is missing.   There is no communion of saints without saints.

 

The gospel is that God saves us from sin and death in order to make us partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1: 4).  This is the message of joy. 

Yes, it is this holy fellowship with God through our Lord Jesus Christ that gives us true joy.   This fellowship is all that we desire and it is our highest delight.  

 

Now, when the apostle says that the true believer does not walk in darkness he does not mean that we are without any sin.   Even here in verse 7 he makes clear that God, through the blood of Christ, continues to cleanse us from our sins.   We need the daily forgiveness of our sins and we continue to have a lifelong struggle against sin, a struggle in which we often stumble – think of Rom. 7!

But the apostle makes a clear distinction between a life in communion with God in which we grow in sanctification and fellowship with God over against a sinful life in disobedience.

He does not teach that we must be perfect in ourselves before we can have communion with God, for then all men would be cut off from God.   Note the last part of verse 7:

 

            “…and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin”.

 

Christ has already reconciled us with God, and while we now live in fellowship with God the blood of Christ also continues to sanctify us.   

We are not perfect in ourselves, but perfect in Christ.   Therefore we have fellowship with God only through Christ.    We are reconciled to God only because of Christ’s righteousness and obedience to the law.   That is the only ground for our salvation and the only foundation of our assurance.   But now the apostle is peaking about something else.   He is not here describing the way by which we were reconciled; he describes our communion with God now that we are reconciled.  

 

While we all stumble often, we still have the full assurance of life through the blood of Christ, which also continues to sanctify us.  Through Christ we continue to hate our sin all the more.   And more and more we flee from sin.   We are no longer slaves of sin, ruled by the sinful desires of our flesh – Rom. 6.   It is impossible for a child of God to truly enjoy sin and to continue in it; to live in it.  In that sense it is impossible for us to sin – 1 John 3: 9.   That means: it is impossible for a believer to continue in slavery to sin.

 

The apostle does not mean that we have no sinful nature anymore.  We ought to continue daily crucifying our sinful desires.   We are very far from perfect in ourselves.   We know our own sin, and we have a daily struggle against it. 

But the apostle does mean that we were raised with Christ unto a new life of obedience, and that by our communion with God we are separated from sin.   We have been delivered from the power of darkness and we were conveyed into the kingdom of light and life.  

 

Dear congregation, there will come a day when we will be perfect – the day of Christ’s coming when He will change us in a moment to be like unto His image.  That will be the completion of our salvation.   Through faith in Christ that perfection belongs in principle already to us, for His perfect righteousness is accounted to us.  

And at the same time His blood is also now active in our lives to cleanse us from our sins and to sanctify us the longer the more, until – after this life – we will reach the goal of perfection.

 

What then do we learn from this text? 

God is light and there is no darkness in Him.  He cannot deny Himself, He cannot adjust Himself to have communion with darkness.  

The gospel is not that He compromises His holiness, or that He has communion with us in our sin.   No, He does not save us in sin, but from sin.  In Christ He removes our sin which caused separation from Him.  

 

Dear young people, it is not boring to live a holy life.   God’s law is not a spoilsport.  It is our own sin that robs us from true joy.   Sin destroys life.  

If anyone plays with sin, know that it will destroy you.   No matter how deceivingly pleasant sin may seem to be, its end is bitter and cruel.    Anything that departs from God’s law departs from Him.   All sin works separation from God.   All sin leads to death.

But with God there is light and life, and to that life Christ restores us.

 

Do you want to live?   Do you long for the fullness of joy which the apostle proclaims here?  

It is not found in the world or in the fulfilment of our sinful desires.

It is only found in holy fellowship with the Father through Christ.   

We receive this fellowship through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.   But let no lawless man boast of this fellowship.   Let no man deceive himself.

How does fellowship with God look in practice?

The answer is not difficult.   

God revealed His holiness and righteousness in His law.   Life in communion with Him is spelled out in His commandments.    Unto such a life we were made alive in Christ.

 

Yes, the promise of the covenant is that God will be our God – He will dwell with us, and we with Him.   He will dwell in us, and we in Him.   He is life, and in Him we live.

  

Through our Lord Jesus Christ we receive life in its fullness: true and holy fellowship with God.   That is our joy and our salvation.  

 

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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