A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 12 January 2020 on four key passages in 1 John.
I believe in God. So begins the Apostles’ Creed. And so last week we also began looking at the Apostles’ Creed by asking what it means to believe in God. What is faith?
But there is nothing particularly Christian in saying, “I believe in God.” Two thirds of the world would probably be able to say the same thing, including Jews, Moslems, Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as Westerners who have a vague sense of the existence of a divine being they call God without having any particular religion or active faith. Lots of people believe in God. Like I believe in Argentina. I believe that Argentina is real and that many people find it a fascinating place. Some even call it home. But it doesn’t affect my life in anyway whatsoever.
So it’s not until we get to the second article of the Creed that we find anything exclusively Christian. And that’s what we are looking at today. I believe in God, the Father Almighty. What does it mean to confess our faith in the Father Almighty?
Well, I’ll tell you first what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that God is male. God isn’t some kind of creature that needs to reproduce and comes in male and female. Not like the gods of Greece and Rome who were just bigger pictures of ourselves, beings who looked like us, and acted like us, who had children like us and basically carried on like they were following a script from Home and Away.
Nor does calling God father mean that he is some big old man with a flowing beard sitting on the clouds like some heavenly grandfather. That’s what happens when we project our thoughts and feelings onto God. That’s what we call idolatry, when we create God in our image. But the true and living God is above all those sorts of things, a pure spirit, without being male or female, who does not exist to fulfill our needs and desires, but who exists to reveal the glory of his own perfect will.
And it doesn’t mean that God is as good or as bad as our own fathers. Who tried their best, or maybe didn’t. Who inspired us and encouraged us or annoyed us or scarred us or abandoned us. Again, God is not just the projection of our experiences of fatherhood onto a larger canvas. He is the maker and judge of all fathers, the standard by which all fatherhood will be measured.
So if that’s what it doesn’t mean, what does it mean to confess our faith in the Father Almighty? Well, I’ve picked a few passages from John’s first letter to help us find out.
The first passage, 1 John 1:1-4, tells us that we call God Father, because he is a person of love. In the opening verses of his letter John draws our attention back to the revelation of Jesus. To what the apostles “saw” and “heard” and even “touched” as they spent three years following the Lord Jesus during his earthly ministry. This was the “Word of life”, not a message, not a story, not a book, but a person, Jesus, who was sent to show us what God is like. Jesus came to give us “eternal life”, which is not just life forever, a boring eternity, twiddling our thumbs, wondering what we’re going to do for the next five million years, apart from strumming harps on clouds, trying to keep those robes pure white. No, eternal life in one word is “fellowship”, which means sharing, community, mutual love. Fellowship with one another, and fellowship with God the Father and the Son.
And if there’s one thing I know about fellowship, about sharing, it is that you can’t do it with things. You can’t have fellowship with a rock. You’ve got nothing to share with a pencil. You’ve got nothing in common with a brick. Well, some of you might, but most of you don’t. You have fellowship with people, other persons, beings who think and act and choose and love. This is why we call God Father, not because he’s a man, not because he’s got a beard, not because he yells at us all the time, telling us to “be quiet, I’m trying to watch the TV”. We call God Father, because he is a person with whom we can have fellowship, with whom we have something to share, with whom we have things in common. The true and living God is a person of love, who created us in his image so we could love him back.
The second passage says,
Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist – he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
It reminds us that we call God our Father, because Jesus first called him my Father. He is the Father. From all eternity, before the creation of the world, God existed as a being in community with himself, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God did not create us because he was lonely, and wanted to know what true love was like. He created us to share with us the love the three person of the trinity had for each other. And the Father sent the Son into the world to draw us into that love, to open the door that we might experience that love. As Jesus prayed in John chapter 17,
Righteous Father, I have made you known to them in order that the love you have for me may be in them.
To call God Father means to acknowledge that Jesus is his one, true son. We cannot call God Father, unless we accept the Lord Jesus as the Son who called him my Father and taught us to call him our Father.
The third passage reminds us of the great news as the gospel. God sent Jesus to make us his children. That is, the Father sent his only Son into the world, to get more sons and daughters for himself. So many people only want forgiveness. “Forgive me, God. Have mercy on me, a sinner.” In fact, it’s almost like it’s not forgiveness that they want as much as they want God to just leave them alone. You can see it in the way that they seem in such a hurry to commit more sin, the same sins over and over, in order to be forgiven.
It’s like a bad case of moral bulimia. Committing evil. Feeling regret, remorse, and shame and guilt. Then being purged and purified so they can go and commit more evil. But forgiveness, though so wonderful, so astonishing, is only a means to an end. Through the experience of forgiveness, we are brought out of the power of sin and brought into a relationship of love with our maker.
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.
By nature we are born in sin and children of wrath, but through Christ we become sons and daughters of God, heirs to his kingdom of glory and called to display the likeness of our heavenly Father. To call God Father then, is to express the desire, the hope, the commitment, to become more and more like him. As John tells us in chapter 3:
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
To call God Father, then, means to live as his children in the world.
The fourth passage reminds us that the Father has proven his love in the gift of his Son. Every parent knows that eventually their sons and daughters are their gifts to the world, to make their own way, and to find their own destiny. In a similar way, though infinitely more significant, the Lord Jesus, the Son, was the Father’s gift to a world lost in sin. The Father sent the Son into the world, where he would experience real human life without the comforts of his divine power, where he would experience sin and temptation up close and personal, where he would experience human need and pain, drawing on his resources of power and compassion, and finally where he would experience death, the wages of sin.
God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
To call God Father then is to acknowledge this gift, to receive Christ his Son and to trust in his perfect atoning sacrifice and not in any good deed of our own, and to honour that gift with that same kind of love for one another.
And the last passage reminds us that to call God Father, means that we pledge ourselves to keep his commandments.
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
This is what it means to become God’s child. It means that we want to become like him. Do you see that this is the exact opposite of a works based religion? Works based religion tries to keep God’s commands to appease God to impress God in some way to win his love and his blessing. I give to God so that he might give to me. I scratch his back, he scratches mine. It is quid pro quo, something for something. In the end, however, it is self-defeating. We have nothing to give that God does not already have that is not his gift to us.
But in Christ we learn that it is the Father who gives, who gave his son that we might become his children. It is God who loves first that we might honour his love with love in return. God showed his love on the cross of his Son. We show our love by keeping his commandments. In fact, we love keeping his commandments. And even if we stumble and fall into temptation, we have a Father in heaven who loves us and picks us up and helps us start all over again.
I believe in God. Anyone can say that. But to believe in God, the Father Almighty, is nothing short of confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. For we call him Father, because Jesus first called him my Father and taught us to call him our Father. The Father sent the son so that we might become his children and experience for ourselves that fellowship, that community, that love that the Son has with his Father. All other faiths believe in God, but fail to experience that love that only Jesus Christ can give and ultimately they end in failure. They urge us to give so that God can give to us in return. They promise much, but cannot deliver.
But the gospel reminds us that God has given to us first and it is our privilege to know him through Jesus his Son so that we might know him as our Father and to love him as he loved us. This is the gospel, that you are loved. You are loved beyond all expectations and hopes.
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.