Pentecost - free text

Preached: August 23, 2015

Remember Whose Commands We Keep
1 John 2:1-5

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit draws us to God’s love in Christ is 1 John 2.

My dear children, I write this to you to keep you from sinning. If ever anyone does sin, we have an advocate before the Father, namely Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He himself is the sacrificial payment for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the whole world’s.

This is how we know that we have known him: If we keep his commands. The one who says, “I have known him,” but does not keep his commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But for whomever keeps God’s word, God’s love truly reaches its goal in him. This is how we know that we are in him. (1 John 2:1-5)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“So what’s the catch in your religion? How strict is it?” People ask that because to them religion boils down to certain rules. Muslims should pray five times a day. Mormons should do door-to-door missionary work. Catholics should say the rosary. Baptists should make their decision to follow Jesus and then be baptized. And so on. When they ask how strict a church is, they are thinking about how many rules does it have, how strongly are they enforced, and how counter to society do those rules feel.

Such thinking can infect us as well, if we view ourselves as the church that has rules about communion, rules about who can sing at weddings and funerals, rules against same-sex marriage, and so on. And when you get right down to it, this mindset views the rules as burdensome. Maybe they’re for our good. We’ll acknowledge that sometimes. But they still feel strict.

That though is not the mindset of faith in Jesus, dear friends. Even though that kind of thinking infects us, that is not the mindset of faith in Jesus. John’s words in the text give us a whole new view.

In fact, one word in particular in the text brought this home to me: the little word “his.” When John refers to commands, he does not refer to some abstract body of law or to some systematic set of rules. He doesn’t even say “the” commands, though that could be understood correctly. Rather he writes “HIS commands.” When we remember whose commands we keep, that changes our entire way of thinking about them. It remakes our mindset brand new. That’s the theme today: Remember whose commands we keep.

So whose commands do we keep? Back in Catechism class when a student isn’t sure of an answer, they’ll often guess “God.” You can’t go to wrong with “God,” can you? Technically, that is a correct answer. Whose commands do we keep? God’s commands. But to think we’ve answered the question and can move on misses the context of that little word “his.”

Who is this “God” who gives us his commands? Don’t all religions claim to be following their god’s commands? What makes our God different?

Take a look at what John writes. “I write this to you so that you will not sin” (1 John 2:1 NIV84). Our God is not the god of this world who has no standards, no right or wrong. He does not turn a blind eye to the sinful wickedness of mankind, not caring whether people follow the path of sin or not. No! He is pure, good, and holy. He does not want us to walk the path of sin and death. He earnestly longs for us not to sin.

But don’t all religions teach some sort of divine standard? What makes our God different? John puts that front and center in what he writes next.

“But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1, 2 NIV84).

Our God, and only our God, has freely given us the Savior we need. We fall short of his standards. We have sinned. We do not measure up. But our God, and only our God, has provided the Savior we need: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Jesus speaks to the Father in our defense. What does say? Does he say, “At least they belonged to a strict church and tried hard”? Does he say, “At least they followed the rules of their church. They prayed their rosary or made their decision or had a believer’s baptism”? Does he say, “At least they didn’t give into same-sex marriage and had the right doctrine in their books”? That would all be a fatal defense, and Jesus would be a failure as our advocate.

Rather, what does Jesus say? Well, he is the Righteous One, not you or I. We’re the guilty, unrighteous ones. So Jesus say in your defense and mine, “I, Jesus, have fulfilled the law for them. I, Jesus, have measured up to all the righteous requirements. I, Jesus, freely give them my right record. Judge them, dear Father, according to what I have done, not according to their deeds. Judge them by my perfect record.” No other religion has a Savior like that!

What’s more, Jesus gave himself as the sacrifice that fully pays for your sins and my sins and all the sins of the world. Yes, every individual sinner in this world has had all their sins paid up in full by Jesus. He, the guiltless one, gave himself up for the guilty. He suffered our punishment in our place. He alone is the atoning sacrifice. No other religion has a Savior like that! Why wouldn’t we believe in him and do what he commands?

Do you see how this changes our entire way of thinking about his commands? Do you see how this remakes our mindset brand new? That little word “his” reminds us of whose commands we keep. They are HIS commands—the commands of him who loved us so dearly that he sacrificed himself in our place. Wouldn’t his commands overflow with love, grace, and mercy? They are HIS commands—the commands of him who still continues to plead to the Father in our defense day after day. Wouldn’t his commands overflow with all that is good and right for us?

When we know him—not just know about him, but know him as the one who sacrificed himself for us, the one who pleads to the Father in our defense—when we know him, his commands, yes HIS commands, become our joy and delight. They no longer feel strict or burdensome to the new self. Why wouldn’t we want to obey the will of him who has done all for us?

So when John writes, “We know that we have come to know him, if we obey his commands” (1 John 2:3 NIV84). This is not some sort of superficial knowing or outward obedience. Only those who know Jesus as the Savior, their only Savior from sin and death—only they see his commands as joy and delight and eagerly want to obey because of what he has done for us, because they are HIS commands, the commands of our gracious and loving Savior.

And don’t limit that word “commands,” just to the moral law of right and wrong. Commands express the determined, fervent will of the person who speaks them. And what is God’s will? Not only that we do right and flee from wrong. But his good and gracious will is for you to believe in Jesus and be saved. What joy and delight the more we realize how fervently and earnestly God himself longs for our salvation!

And the word’s that translated as “obey” was a wonderful picture. It’s not the idea of a superior looking down and telling subordinates what to do because they have to listen to him because they are under him. Rather, think of a treasure that you want to guard and keep safe. Our Lord’s commands are a dear treasure entrusted to us, more precious than gold. Guard them within your heart. Keep them unblemished. Obey them. For they are HIS commands, the will of our good and gracious Savior.

And this is God’s goal for you. When the text says, “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him” (1 John 2:5 NIV84), the word translated “is truly made complete” has the idea of reaching it’s goal. God’s love is always full and complete and perfect in and of itself. But his love reaches its goal for us as it brings us to gladly hear and obey his word.

So dear friends, don’t get drawn in to the world’s way of thinking about religion. Don’t get drawn into those discussion about strictness that make Christianity sound as if its all about rules. Remember whose commands we obey. Whatever our Savior says brings joy and delight, for he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He is the one who plead to the Father in our defense. What joy and delight to obey HIS commands! Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313