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Comfort and Challenge

Sermon Series:

Final Words

Nate Harney
Nate Harney

Ministries Pastor

Peace Church

Main Passage:
1 John 3


Well, good morning, church. My name is Nate. I'm the family pastor here, and it is my joy to open up God's word with you on this special day. Feels a little redundant by this point of the service, but I'll say it again. Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there. I woke up this morning, and it has never felt so calm and peaceful in my home. And it had nothing to do with Father's Day. My kids are four, three, and one right now. It felt so calm and peaceful because for this last week, I was actually gone on a trip in West Virginia with a full busload of middle schoolers from this church. And we had an amazing time. It was a blast. God did some awesome work, but it is good to be home. And I hope you hear my heart. I love the kids of the church. I love your students that are here. But I also love just a little bit of peace and quiet every once in a while, a little personal space. I hope you can grasp those two things at once. And I say that because I almost feel like it's a bit of a lost art these days to be able to hold on to two ideas at the same time. I was reminded of that.

That was solidified for me with a news story that popped on my feed just yesterday. It's from our neck of the woods. Here's what it says. This is by an international news outlet. They covered a story that, here's the headline, I'll just read it to you. It says, a sense of betrayal, liberal dismay as Muslim-led US city bans pride flags. Here's the tagline. Many liberals celebrated when Hamtramck, Michigan elected a Muslim majority council, but a vote to exclude LGBT flags from city property has now soured those relations. When I saw that headline, the first thing I thought was, how in the world did they not see this coming? This should have been an anticipated conflict, but people just have an idea, or have difficulty grasping two ideas at once. And so I think the people of Hamtramck that wanted to prove how progressive their city was, they had trouble grasping the idea that they had this desire on one hand to prove to the world that they were not Islamophobic. They wanted that to be loud and clear. They didn't realize that might come in conflict with their other desire to show the world their pride in this sexual revolution that takes over our country at this time of the year. They weren't thinking about those two ideas at the same time. And so as a result, they get to be on the headline of the news now.

And this morning, as we continue our walk through John's final words given in his last letters, we'll have to hold on to two ideas at the same time. So I'll need you to focus and think about this with me. And I hope that you've kind of caught this already. We're three weeks into the series on the book of 1 John. I hope you've caught this, but if you haven't, there's kind of this debate. There's this conversation that happens around this letter and particularly right around this third chapter because there's a question. Is the intention of this letter to bring comfort to the church or is it? Is John trying to assure Christians of their faith? Bring them to comfort through that? Or is he trying to challenge the false faith that's present in the church and making it very clear that there are those who claim the name of Christ that isn't actually with him? Which one is it? As we return again to 1 John this morning, I think we'll all see that the most honest and the most straightforward reading of this letter is that God intends for us to feel both of those things, comforted and challenged at the same time.

So would you open your Bibles with me to 1 John chapter 3. I'm going to start by reading the first 10 verses and then later on we'll read the remainder of the chapter. And as you're turning there now, I just want you to know going into it, the whole focus of this morning is going to be on how we respond to passages like this. How do we respond to a chapter like 1st John 3? Will we feel comforted? Will we feel challenged? Maybe both, hopefully both? Maybe even we'll feel neither of those things? So please don't zone out as I read this. It's a longer portion of God's word, but it's just that this is God's word. So as we read it, really think about what he is speaking to us today and how you are responding to it individually.

So here we go. 1 John 3:1

See what kind of love the father has has given to us that we should be called children of God and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now and what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins and in him there is no sin. Listen to this. No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him little children let no one deceive you whoever practices righteousness is righteous as he is righteous whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil for the devil has been sinning from the beginning the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil No one born of God makes a practice of sinning for God's seed abides in him And he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God By this it is evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil? Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

Would you pray with me?

Father, we ask that you speak to us this morning through the power of your Holy Spirit as present here in your word. Help us to respond honestly and openly to what you're trying to say to us today. We love you and we pray this in Jesus' name, amen.

So answer with me just in your heart, Amen. So, answer with me, just in your heart, but honestly this morning. What did you think and how did you feel while hearing God's Word just now? What was your response? And I hope that for most of us gathered here, your response was the one that God intended for us, to feel both comforted and challenged.

You should be comforted by the first thing we just read in verses 1 and 2. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God's children now. And what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He is. If you are a follower of Jesus this morning, I hope you were deeply comforted by hearing that you are a child of God, your Father. On this Father's Day, whatever your relationship is to your earthly Father, whether you got the best dad in the world, or you've never even met him, whether you're going to be celebrating with him right after the service today, or whether you're going to be grieving and remembering the father's days that you did get to spend with him. Whatever your relationship is, good, bad, or ugly, we should be comforted today by knowing that God is all of our perfect father, perfect Father and if we follow Him we are His beloved children. That should bring us great joy and comfort but but we should also feel challenged by God's Word this morning. We should be challenged by the last thing that we just read in verses 9 and 10. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning for God's seed abides in him and he cannot keep on sinning Because he has been born of God By this it is evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil whoever does not practice Righteousness is not of God nor is the one who does not love his brother.

If you are a follower of Jesus this morning, I trust and I hope you are challenged by hearing that we can know who the children of God are because they cannot keep on sinning. Now we've gone over in 1 John 1 and 1 John 2, I hope with total clarity that these passages in 1 John are not talking about attaining a state of sinless perfection. Remember that John clarifies in this same letter that we all sin. But it also doesn't mean the exact opposite of what it plainly says. And if anyone tells you this means the opposite of what it says, you have to question the source there. We should be challenged by hearing that God's children cannot make a repetitive pattern practice of the same old sin and that there will be evidence of growing righteousness in their lives that is clearly displayed and how they love others. True children of God grow up to live like their righteous, loving, heavenly Father. So pause with me here, because as we look at this chapter in 1 John, if you're experiencing some sort of mix of comfort and challenge and maybe some new clarity or even new questions about what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus, praise God because you are responding rightly to His Word this morning. Because 1 John 3, and really all of God's Word, it gives us this constant, beautiful mix of comfort and inspiration, of challenge and conviction.

But here's something we know. Here's something I know. For all of us gathered here, there's so many here, that I know there are a number of us here who didn't feel comforted or challenged while they were listening to the word of God, but they felt something else entirely. Because if we're being honest, I know that there are some of us here this morning who as we open up and as we explore God's word, some of you feel indifferent, unaffected, almost apathetic to what God's Word is saying here. You hear God's Word say in verse 5, you know that he appeared in order to take away sins and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning. No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known Him, and you just don't think too much about it. Maybe you're here this morning, because this is what you do on Sundays, this is what we do in West Michigan on Sundays, and you believe the Bible stuff, but outside of Sunday mornings, this doesn't really have a big impact on your daily life. Maybe you said a prayer one day or you accepted Christ, so you're good. And nothing else has really changed, but you know what's neat? You get to go to heaven when you die. That's special. This is where we need to be precise and we need to be extremely careful because we are entering into some dangerous and risky territory here. But hear me out, hear me out, because this isn't me.

Because of what God's word said, I just read it to you, because of what God's word says here in 1 John 3, I need to tell you that if you feel indifferent about all of this, if you're just kind of going through the motions and doing the church stuff, but your life isn't being consistently transformed by the grace of God, if you aren't becoming more like Jesus if you're just living your life your way but also just happen to wear the label of Christian, I need you to listen to me because Because what God's Word says not my opinion or anyone else's Because what God's Word says if that is you this morning And I am deeply concerned for your soul. Listen to what I'm saying. Based on what God's Word says, we know that there are those gathered here right now who you think you are a Christian, you feel that you are a follower of Jesus, and you earnestly believe that you are saved and you're not. Does this make us a little uncomfortable? Does this challenge some of the ways that we might think about the gospel?


We need to hold on to that. And we're going to go there this morning. But before we get into that, I've got to tell you, this is what's hard about a passage like 1 John 3. Because there's another group that I know is here right now that I'm just as concerned about, but for a very, very different reason. Some of you, as we're reading God's Word this morning, you're not feeling apathy, you're not feeling indifference. When we read a passage like this, you feel the exact opposite. You have absolute terror and deep-down dread in your heart and your soul. Because when you heard God's Word say, you know that He appeared in order to take away sins and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. You didn't feel indifferent to that. You didn't feel challenged either and you certainly didn't feel any comfort from that. You experienced total and absolute terror because for you a passage like this is confirming concerns that have just been constantly consuming your mind and your heart and your soul. Am I sinning too much to be truly saved? Do I even have enough righteousness to prove that I really am one of God's children? Do I love others enough and consistently enough to reflect that I really am a follower of Jesus and I love like He loved us. I did that sin again, and I promised God I would never do, and I did it again, and I haven't been loving people this week like I know I should, like the Bible says I should. When I meet Jesus face to face, He's gonna look at me, and He's gonna say, away from me, I never knew you." Listen to me if that's you this morning. Again, based on what God's Word says, I feel it's probably safe to say that there are some of you who are deeply worried that you are not Christians. You're terrified that you're not actually saved. child of God, when the truth is, the biblical truth, is that undoubtedly, absolutely, assuredly, you are a follower of Jesus and you will not hear away from me, I never knew you, but you will hear, well done, good and faithful servant, come into the loving arms of your Father. Do we feel the gravity of a chapter of Scripture like this? Do you understand what's at stake if we oversimplify the complexity here and if we get rid of one of these two ideas that are present here that God wants to comfort and challenge us simultaneously? Because God's Word, I can't say this enough this morning, you have to hear me. God's Word is crystal clear that the good news the gospel tells us that it's not what we do, but it's what Jesus has done that saves us. Amen? Be comforted by that this morning. Rest in that. And God's saving grace in your life is transformation. Not perfection, but transformation. Amen? That's the gospel truth to you. Be challenged by that this morning. And I hope and I pray for each of us are feeling the proper response to verses like this. Some comfort and some challenge. I hope for the most of us here that we're just getting a reminder that we need to hold both these ideas that we are not saved by our own goodness or good works, but that once we are saved, God will do a good work in and through us. So I want to read the rest of 1st John 3 for you now, and let's hold these ideas of being comforted and challenged as we read the rest here. So open up your Bibles again to verses 11 through 24. We're going to read the rest of this beautiful chapter from Scripture.

Here's what it says.

It says, for this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and who murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brothers were righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love that he laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. And by this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our hearts before him. For whenever our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God, and whatever we ask, we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him. And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ and love one another just as he has commanded us whoever keeps his Commandments abides in God and God in him and by this we know that he abides in us By the Spirit whom he has given us So again, what did you experience while we read that I hope for most of us. It was challenged in comfort Now I just want to speak again for those of you who are feeling the fear and the anxiety right now I believe God the Father has a message for you from his word today Here's the message for those of you who are concerned that you aren't Christians, but you actually are It's to believe you are His child and to receive His comfort. Just look at the last section of that passage we just read. Verse 19 says this, By this we shall know we are of the truth and reassure our hearts before Him. For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything. Beloved, if your heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God. Stop there. Even with all the challenge that's present in a chapter like this, in a book like 1 John, God's purpose for his children here is not to feel condemnation, but to feel the comfort of confidence and the assurance of our position before God as his beloved children.

I went to a church for a season while I was in college and I was really attracted to the church because they seem to love the word and they preach the word and they want to follow the word but I found over time that instead of challenge and conviction there were just times and I believe seasons where they're heaping a lot of condemnation on the congregation and as I sat there, I was training to be a pastor to do this, and I found myself starting to think, I can't be a pastor. I don't even know if I'm a follower of Jesus anymore. All these things I'm supposed to be doing that I don't do, all these patterns that are supposed to be changing, all this transformation that's supposed to be happening. I don't even know if I'm a Christian. I can't be a pastor.

So I panicked. And so I went to another source, I was studying at the time, so I went to this grizzled old theology professor who kind of seemed like a grumpy guy, and I thought if anyone's gonna confirm my worst fears, it's gonna be this guy. So I just started kind of pouring out what I was going through. And he sat there, and he started to smile, and then he just started to laugh at me. And I'm like, why are you laughing? And he said, let me ask you something. How many people who aren't Christians do you think are out there right now worrying that they're not Christians? I don't think a lot of them out there. I think that's a pretty exclusively Christian thing to do. I think you're fine. That reassured me in so many ways. and I realized my heart just needed some reassurance from the Spirit of God spoken through a wise man.

But then he got really serious with me. Because he said, don't worry about it. It's clear. I see the transformation. You're not perfect, but God's doing a work in you. But he said, but you need to snap out of this now. Because you sitting around all day worrying about your own salvation instead of trusting Jesus has finished work on the cross makes you of no good to the kingdom of God and he's got people that need to be loved He's got a mission that needs to be completed. He's got things for you to do. So snap out of it and get out there And that's exactly what I needed to hear If you're feeling any ungodly condemnation and terror today. That's not based on God's Word. That's based on lies and fear. If you believe in Jesus and you see true transformation happening.

So if that's you today, God has a message for you on this Father's Day. It's believing you are my child and receiving my comfort. God has things for you to do. He's got people you need to love. The truth that needs to be proclaimed. If you're sitting around worried about your own salvation all day, you're not going to be completing the mission that God has in front of you. So receive his comfort and his assurance this morning. But we need to switch gears because that's what John does in this letter. Some of us need to hear the other side of this message because the Father has another message for us, clear in His word. Because there are those of us who might call ourselves Christian, but you actually are not. And God's message to you is to become my child and receive my challenge. Go back to verse 23 with me. Let's keep reading. God says this, and this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He has commanded us. Whoever keeps His commands abides in God, and God in him. Did you catch that at the end there? Our assurance of our faith doesn't just come from knowing that we've believed in the name of Jesus, but biblically, what we're reading this morning, we learn that our confidence also comes from seeing the tangible evidence of the work that the Spirit is doing in and through us that shows we actually do believe in Jesus. This is displayed according to God's word in how we obey the commandments and love one another.

I gotta say it again,

because a message like this might be confusing for some of you. I thought Peace was a gospel-centered church. What is going on with this message? I want to be really clear. We've said this so many times, but it's worth saying over and over and over again. Our righteousness, our obedience, and our love does not save us. Jesus is righteousness and his obedience and his love that drove him to the cross in our place. That's what brings us salvation. That is the gospel. And it's also the gospel, the same gospel that teaches us in a place like first John is saved by God will keep his commandments and will grow in love. It's not the cause, it's the effect. It's never earning, but there is always effort involved. Now I've got to tell you, in my life right now, as I've been preparing for this message, it's just been helping me to realize that there's a situation in my life where I've been ungodly. There's someone I work with here at the church and I just over time I developed kind of an unfair and an unreasonable grudge against them and then for a season, God has helped me to realize and been challenging me that I've just been repeatedly taking it out on them.

Does that disqualify me from being a Christian? Praise God, no it doesn't.

Do I lose my salvation because I messed up again? Absolutely not.

What Jesus has done on the cross cannot be undone by anyone, including myself. Praise God, thank you, Jesus. That's a comfort this morning. I hope you take that comfort in. But here's the beauty and the complexity of the Christian walk as we hold all the breadth of what Scripture teaches. That person that I was being cruel to, that I was holding a grudge against, think about this. Based on what we're reading in 1 John, would a follower of Jesus live in blatant sin and willful disobedience in that unloving pattern for the rest of their life. We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. By God's grace, I got to sit down with this person and pour out my confession and ask for forgiveness and promise true repentance that I would change and by God's grace this person did not repay my evil with some of their own no they poured out on me forgiveness and love now neither my confessing of the sin or their forgiving of my sin played an ounce into our salvation. But both of our actions reflected that we really are children of our Father in Heaven. He's doing something in us. And if either of us wouldn't have been ever willing to repent ever, I will never repent of that, or I will never forgive what He did. Consistently over time, if that was the pattern, 1 John 3 today is telling us that should be a cause for concern, and that's why I say, I would be worried for your soul

if you can identify with that.

That makes you uncomfortable, I get it.

I'm sweating up here right now.

I normally don't do that. This is intense. If you're a person who just says, I'm trying to grasp this biblical reality, praise God, you're responding rightly to God's Word. But let me just be really clear, if this something like this, if a message like this makes you uncomfortable because you say, you know what, if I'm being honest with myself, if I ask the people around me, since I became a Christian, I think most people would say, there hasn't been really any effect in my life. I feel like God's grace saved me, but I don't know if I've ever really encountered His transforming grace. Can I tell you what? They're the same thing. So if you haven't experienced one, then you haven't experienced the other. If you're feeling that, if you're sitting in that this morning, I'm not bringing condemnation on you. That is not my intent. In fact, I want to do the opposite. I want to give you the invitation that God has already offered. Come to Jesus. Become the Father's child today. Receive the comfort of his salvation and the excitement of the challenge of a life lived for Jesus here on earth. It's a daily adventure to get to receive his grace and be saved and then be transformed by it as we go out obeying his commandments and loving the people he has called us to love. But my hope still is that most of us are somewhere in between these two groups. So the Father's final message to all of His children that I see here in 1 John 3 is just to continue in His comfort and in His challenge. Look at what the last sentence in chapter 3 says, And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. I can't tell you that God abides in you only the Spirit who he's given can do that And how does the Spirit do that this morning? I hope he's been doing that by the power of his word and by your honest response to it It's exactly what I hope is going on in all of us this morning So if you would would you all if you're able would you just stand? With your heads bowed Would you quiet your hearts I just want to ask those of you, if you call yourself a Christian but still feel indifferent to all of this, to living it out daily, hear God's word one last time. By this it is evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil. Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. If you truly believe and follow Jesus, but you're feeling ungodly fear and anxiety because you are believing a lie from the pit of hell, hear God's word one last time this morning. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. And so we are.

Heavenly Father, my prayer My prayer for each of us here this morning, if we're experiencing ungodly condemnation, I pray God that your comfort would come rushing in and you would give total assurance that you have finished the work on the cross. And Lord, for others here who have gotten so comfortable that their lives aren't being transformed by Jesus, I pray God that you would introduce them to yourself anew this morning. God, that you would just encapsulate them and that you would, God, you would just bring the waves of your saving and transforming grace over every aspect of their lives. For all of us God Help us to respond to the challenge and to the comfort That you've given us in your word. Thank you, Jesus That you've given us in your word. Thank you, Jesus Please accept our worship as we sing to you God in Jesus name. Amen

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