1 John 5:9-15 (NLT)
Since we believe human testimony, surely we can believe the greater testimony that comes from God. And God has testified about his Son. All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about his Son.
And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.
I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life. And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.
This is the final sermon in a six-part series, “Children of God.” It is written in conjunction with Life Group Bible studies held through Luminary United Methodist Church in Ten Mile, Tenn.
“What is truth?” This must be the question of questions. Pilate, the Roman governor in Jerusalem, asked it in the presence of the King of Kings, the source of all truth.
The scene, found in John 18:33-40, is particularly sad because Pilate doesn’t seem to want an answer. I imagine the tone of his rhetorical question, aimed more at the air than at Jesus, to be weary and cynical.
We should do better. We at least need to take the question seriously. What is truth?
When I say “we,” I’m addressing Christians, of course. Non-Christians, like Pilate, have to wrestle with the question in a different way, beginning with the notion of whether there is any truth at all.
The Great Story
Christians sometimes forget what it means to have “Christ” as part of their religious moniker. Such forgetfulness is a little strange, if you think about it, but we also have to remember how we remain immersed in a world trying on a daily basis to ignore or challenge Christian versions of truth. Perhaps it is not surprising that we sometimes listen to those voices, rather than the voice of God expressed in the Bible through faithful writers.
The author of 1 John certainly is one of those writers concerned with the notion of truth. He recorded the “what is truth” scene in the Gospel of John, and in the letter we’ve been studying, he asserts the answer to the question.
Understanding Who Jesus Christ is and what Jesus Christ is doing lets us define truth. If you were in Life Groups last week, you talked about evangelism, the act of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. To evangelize successfully, you have to grasp the truth, which is rooted in a story you are called to relate to others.
Who is Jesus? He is the Son of God. To John, the word “son” means much more than a simple biological progression, a passing of genes from one generation to another. The spiritual essence of the man known as Jesus is God, and that aspect of God has always existed. The Word took on flesh to live among us. Again, see the opening of the Gospel of John.
What is Jesus doing? He is the fulfillment of promises made long before God took on flesh. These were promises of restoration and healing, assurances God would provide people a way out of sin even though we deserve nothing but condemnation.
In a great act of sacrificial love, Jesus fulfilled these promises by going to the cross and dying for our sins. Through the centuries, Christians have tried to describe how salvation works in more ways than I can count.
Jesus bore the punishment for us; he served as a ransom to free us from Satan; he accepted our shame; he bridged the divide between us and God—likely, every orthodox explanation takes us in the right direction, but alone, each also falls short of describing the magnitude of what God has done as Christ.
John is clear about the result, however. Instead of death, we have eternal life. Death is now but a veil, something we pass through to begin our life fully aware of the presence God.
This Great Story, and all the little stories that fill it out, are remarkably beautiful when we let them sink in. The Great Story has penetrated nearly every culture on the planet for a reason. God’s grace is something every human has the potential to understand.
And yes, the claims we make about Jesus’ identity and work representing truth are quite exclusive. To have eternal life, we must know God as expressed through Jesus Christ. As John writes in the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John, quoting Jesus: “I am the way, the truth, the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”
This brings us to a sticky point in Christian theology: What is the fate of people who never get to hear about Jesus Christ? It seems unfair for them to be condemned.
As Dr. Ben Witherington at Asbury Theological Seminary has pointed out, salvation is not about what is just or fair. Thank God! None of us would be very happy if we thought we were to get what we deserve when standing before God.
Salvation is about grace. God’s grace makes it possible for all people to sense the presence of God, the reality of God, if only through the limited ways we sense God in nature.
Says Dr. Witherington: “You are held accountable for what you know about God, and what you do with what you know about God.” It is reasonable to expect that God will give those who never heard of Jesus Christ the opportunity to respond to his work on the cross in some way we cannot currently understand.
Back to Us
Of course, not knowing about Jesus Christ is strictly theoretical for us. We’ve heard of him. We know the story, and by calling ourselves Christians we are accountable to the truth of who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing in unique ways.
As Christians we are truth bearers. I mentioned earlier how the non-Christian world approaches the question of truth differently, either denying there is some universal truth or debating what the standard for truth might be.
We don’t want to attack them; that kind of approach led to some of the great sins of the Christian world. But we also certainly should not ignore them. God calls us to go into the world and declare who Jesus is and what he is doing.
As Americans, we are particularly blessed to live in a place where we can enter what is supposed to be a marketplace of free ideas and explain what we believe. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we should learn to do this winsomely—we have the greatest love story ever told on our side!
Do you know the story? Can you tell the story in your own attractive way?
One of the great things about being in a church is we learn the story and celebrate its truth in worship until we can tell it well. It is a joyous duty, and I pray we all learn to take more seriously this call to declare truth.