“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” ~ Hebrews 12:1-3
Our small group has been studying 1 John this past month. The context of the book is that there are a bunch of people who are spreading lies about who Jesus was. They are saying Jesus didn’t actually come in the flesh, he just looked like he did. They believed to be human was not compatible with being God, which actually makes sense from a human perspective.
The problem is that it wasn’t true. John, now old and probably one of the only ones left who had actually “seen with [his] eyes…looked at and [his] hands had touched” Jesus (1 John 1:1), felt the huge responsibility of making the truth known. He was an eyewitness and although it didn’t make sense to human minds and even seemed a bit disrespectful to God, he knew it was true that Jesus was fully God AND man and that that truth brought glory to God and salvation to all.
Today I was studying 1 John 4:1-6. It was the fun verses about “testing the spirits.” First John has lots of fun, crazy things in it like antichrists, light and darkness and spirits. Anyways, the study guide I was using to study these passages asked what beliefs are circling today that contradict the scriptures. I thought of the belief that since God is loving, all people will be saved and hell doesn’t exist. I thought of more controversial ones like gender roles and sexuality. I thought of arguments around evolution and social justice and reform. We’re living in a time full of varied beliefs and with those beliefs are strong emotions.
I loved that John, instead of giving a huge list of “this is true, this false; this is right, this is wrong,” he gave us one criterion:
“This is how you recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” – 1 John 4:2-3
Just one thing. How simple. We like to make things super complicated. We listen to highly eloquent people with very good arguments, but at the end of the day, what matters is simply Jesus and the truth of the gospel. That’s our litmus test for truth and, I’d argue, our litmus test for what beliefs are worth fighting for: Does it align with the truth of the gospel?
- We have all sinned and deserve wrath because God is just.
- God so loved the world he sent his only son (fully God, fully human) to die in our place since he was without sin.
- If we believe in him, we are saved from death and can live in fellowship with God forever.
There are so many things in this world that make the gospel not seem to make sense. There are things that make God not look just or not look loving or not look in control. But God asks us to cling tightly to the truth he’s given us in his Word. Just like the gnostics in John’s day, sometimes what the Bible says doesn’t make sense or fit with how we view the world from our limited vantage point. Just like Moses wanted to fulfill his calling his way, sometimes we want to define truth our way based on our experience.
Sometimes people will think we’re stupid, or ignorant or close-minded because of these beliefs. Furthermore, sometimes God and his Word calls us to do things that appear stupid or foolish. Just look at Noah in the Bible. It’s going to be hard. That’s why we’re reminded and encouraged of this in Hebrews:
“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
I’m not saying stick your head in the sand and shun anyone who believes differently than you. I’m saying, love and respect those you speak with, but cling fast to the gospel. Don’t worry about how you’re perceived, but trust God with the pieces that don’t make sense. Tell him when they don’t make sense or you want to disagree. He can handle it.
And lastly, look at what is the gospel and what isn’t. Are you holding tightly to beliefs that are not the gospel but rather your culture or experience? Are beliefs different from yours contrary to the gospel or simply not in your context? That’s hard to navigate- especially in this day and age where everyone who disagrees with you is the enemy.
These are interesting times we’re living in. John lived in a similar time and he gives us a great example of how we should live: denounce the lies (1 John 4:1-3) and use the truth to invite as many people into the fellowship of the gospel as possible (1 John 1:3-4).
These are also hard times we’re living in. It’s easy to grow weary and lose heart. Apathy and doubt are the two things I’m wrestling with the most right now. That’s why I’m so encouraged by Hebrews 12:2-3 and 1 John 4:4-
“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.”
Did you notice that John doesn’t say you will overcome? He says you have. It’s a done deal and we just have to believe it. This week I’m focusing on the joy set before me because Jesus has overcome.
What truths are you struggling to believe?