Summary: The key to victory by faith is to exercise our faith in serving God
As you’re all aware, we’ve been following a sermon series on the first letter of John for many weeks now by exploring the great themes of John’s letter - truth and love; belief and behaviour.
In our passage for today, 1 John 5:1-12 on page 231 of the pew bibles, we find that John has left the primary and fundamental characteristic of a Christian until the last. Indeed, we’re at the climax of John’s letter as he addresses the subject of faith. We’re saved by faith - not by our own good deeds or our moral conduct, not by our own orthodoxy of belief but by faith.
"And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith" we are told in verse 4. And so I’ve entitled my sermon "Faith - the Key to Victory".
"Salvation by faith" isn’t a new idea for many of us. It is a familiar theme of the Book of James and indeed of the New Testament as a whole. Yet how often do we encounter people whose assurance of eternal salvation in heaven is not their faith but something else. It’s their good deeds for other people or their achievements in professional life or their financial success or the extent of their material possessions. Whatever they might profess, the life they lead clearly indicates a different understanding to that of salvation by faith.
We need to be clear what we mean and understand when we talk about faith. This is what John wants us to do and what I want us to do as we look at the answers to three questions:
* who is the focus of our faith?
* what is the source or evidence of our faith?
* what are the effects of our faith?
Who is the focus of our faith?
Firstly then "who is the focus of our faith?". Well verse 1 tell us that "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ, has been born of God". The focus of our faith is, of course, none other than Jesus Christ. We are reminded of Peter’s wonderful declaration of faith after Jesus asked the disciples "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?". They answered that some say you are John the Baptist and others Elijah and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. But when Jesus asked again "Who do you say that I am?", Peter answered "You are the Christ, the son of the living God". This is true faith focussed on the one who alone is worthy of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The emphasis in this first verse is on the word "born" which reminds us of that total transformation that comes from faith in Christ Jesus - the new life that is ours when we receive Christ as Lord and Saviour. The faith which John is talking about is an authentic faith in the complete Jesus whose mission started with his baptism in the Jordan when the Holy Spirit descended upon him and which culminated, not in his crucifixion but his resurrection to new life at God’s right hand in heaven.
These are Christian fundamentals, but as we will learn in a minute, John has a particular purpose in mind of speaking to those of his day who have lost sight of these fundamentals of the Christian Faith. "No-one comes to the Father but by me", said Jesus. Salvation is in the name of Jesus and in no other name. To be a child of God, one must believe Jesus is the Christ.
We should bear in mind that our faith is at God’s initiative, not our own. This can be a difficult concept for us to grasp. Our faith is an expression of God’s love for us. We are born of him.
Verse 1 makes clear that we cannot be in relationship with the Father without being in relationship with the Son and vice versa. The Father and the Son are inextricably linked in a relationship of love for each other and for the children of God. And so we begin to see that John’s subject of faith in this passage, is really yet another theme about love.
Let’s reflect for a minute on this message which John brings that Jesus alone is the object of faith. I wonder who instantly comes to mind in our own Christian experience as the one who most clearly pointed us to Jesus Christ as the true and only object of faith?
For many Japanese Christians in the first half of this century it was probably a little known person by the name of Toyohiko Kagawa. Toyohiko’s story was told in a recent edition of the Tear Australia magazine "Target" in a regular feature article entitled "People of Faith". I can thoroughly recommend this magazine as a good read.