Pastor Walther / Easter 6 / Confirmation / May 6, 2018 / 1 John 4:1-11
My dad used to explain to me that it was important for me to stay informed with the news, to know what’s going on in the world around me, so that I wouldn’t be ignorant or gullible of the world, so that I would have something to talk about with people, so that I could speak with articulation about a subject, and so that I could have a sense of history, and be wiser for it. It’s interesting because I asked my dad not too long ago if he’s been keeping up with the news. He said no. Between the hours at work and the news broadcasting lately, he couldn’t get himself to even listen. Can you blame him? When you turn on the news or look at the day’s updates on your phone, it’s just a constant berating of people, bickering at each other. The only news seems to be trying to find the darkest secrets of people rather than simply giving the news. You would naturally assume that the news is real, but nowadays, you have to do this whole search and fact check to see if the news is actually true.
But that’s not just with the news, that’s the dilemma for all Christians as they hear different religious messages. Christians simply want to tune in to God, to hear what he has to say, but there are so many different voices out there, religious and non religious, that claim to speak for God. And so the Christian is always facing this problem: who is telling me the truth and how can I even tell?
I’m not much of a hunter besides my time on the big buck hunter game that you might see in a restaurant, but I have seen the impressive decoys that hunters use in my walking through Cabela’s. I feel like these duck decoys have gotten really fancy. The way they move around like real ducks, and some even flap around. If I think they look like real ducks, well then I’m sure the ducks think that the decoys are real ducks, and in the end, the ducks end up dead because they couldn’t tell the difference. For us as Christians, it may be difficult to tell the difference in religious ideas. What is true and what isn’t? The gospel writer John says, actually…don’t believe every spirit. In other words, don’t believe every idea about religion that comes across your path, because not every idea and thought may be coming from God. Maybe it’s coming from somewhere else entirely. Instead, we should always be spiritually on guard because there are spiritual decoys all around us, acting like the real thing, flapping its wings, in order to deceive and to ultimately bring us down. John want us to evaluate and to test every spirit.
Now why would we test these spirits or these religious ideas? Well, why would you test drive a car before you dive right in? What if the car has maintenance problems? What if it smells bad? That’s why you test it. Or when you meet new people that you feel like you could be friends with, you may subtly test them to see if they might be friend worthy. You may get to know them before you start sharing your deepest secrets or insecurities. Why? Because you don’t want to get burned. You don’t want to share a secret only for that person to share it with the rest of school or work. I’m not saying you have to analyze your friends now, but what I’m saying is that God doesn’t want us to be spiritually gullible.
Unfortunately, we a prone to being spiritually gullible, because by nature we don’t care about God. We don’t want to hear about how to live our lives. We don’t want to hear what our priorities should be and what shouldn’t. But when we hear something that sounds good to our selfish sinful nature, we want to follow that idea. When someone tells us that God just wants us to be happy, we like to hear that, even though it has no Biblical backing. And when life goes wrong, and you aren’t happy, then you begin to hate God because life isn’t happy for you, and it’s all because you made your opinion on God based on what someone told you in passing, without even thinking to double check it.
By nature we’re gullible looking at a bunch of spiritual decoys. So often, I stare at and love the decoy duck that tells me that when I mess up, I can work harder and do better, and God will reward me for that effort. I like that decoy duck that tells me that I’ve graduated from confirmation class, and now I’ve learned everything I need to know. Good thing, because church and bible class were getting in the way of my Sunday activities. I like that decoy duck that says love is more powerful than truth. Because I love that person, I won’t tell them the truth of our sin. But in the end, they are decoy ducks. They are empty promises. They aren’t based in reality. They are only traps meant to take you away from the loving arms of our God. As Christians, we are being hunted by Satan, sometimes daily falling into the traps and the decoys that he sets out for us.
You may be thinking: isn’t this the job of the pastor? Isn’t the pastor supposed to tell me what’s right or wrong? This all sounds like a lot of work! And to that I would say partially yes! Since all Christians begin their life as spiritual babies they need spiritual leadership and sound teaching to help them grow. Jesus gave the important responsibility of pastors and teachers to share the good news about Jesus. But Satan also sees the message that we share to be a deadly blow to his control over the people of the world. And so he also recruits and trains spiritual liars. Satan is so crafty and subtle that his teachers actually think they are working for God. And that’s why it's the job of all Christians to do this testing, not just pastors and teachers, because we need all Christians to double check what we are preaching and teaching. There are immediate red flags when a pastor or spiritual leader, or a scientist or a philosopher or a college professor claim to be the sole possessors of knowledge and who demand that everyone without question have to accept their findings and insult those who go against them. Those are red flags that their message isn’t from God.
So John’s advice to Christians is to test these ideas and people. He isn’t talking about standardized testing like you have to do in school, but this word for “test” in the Greek means putting it on a scale of weights and measures. We don’t really deal with scales that often in our daily lives, but in ancient times, metals and coins were constantly weighed and tested before they were accepted, because people could easily make fake coins. The business people would use official standard weights to measure everything with. For us as Christians, that standard weight should be God’s Word and nothing else. A lot of times people start putting other weights on the scale instead of God’s Word as the standard weight. People will try and take a pastor’s opinion or an Instagram’s philosophical thought or a Twitter statement or even a college professor's claim and then try and make those things the weight to compare the world with. But people’s opinions and beliefs change. Emotions change. Knowledge changes. There can only be one standard weight, God’s Word, because God’s message never changes and so we should always weigh everything up and against God’s Word.
Since we can’t look into people’s hearts and know their motivation behind their teaching, what John wants us to put on the other side of the scale is their confession. In other words, what is their position or their agenda or their teaching? Their appearance, or their charisma, or the fancy buildings, or even the number of followers are all irrelevant, but what matters is their confession: what do they truly believe and how does it compare to everything that God’s Word has to say?
Here's a simple test: Use the creeds that you have learned, memorized, and now you yourselves confess. How do the ideas or religions or beliefs stack up next to the Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds? The trouble that John ran into in his day was that there were preachers who were claiming that Jesus wasn’t really God when he was born and when he died, but that he was God for parts of his life. Today it seems like there are so many religions that deny the trinity and want nothing to do with Jesus. So many religious philosophies like Buddhism and Hinduism want nothing to do with the biblical Christ. Most universities are hostile towards Christianity.
The difficult thing for Christians is that the world applauds those institutions and religions for being “loving” or being “so intelligent.” The world soaks that stuff up. The world hears these non Christian ideas and nods in full approval and throws money and success towards them. It’s deceiving to see their success because we might think they’re doing something right. John says that’s to actually be expected. False teachers sometimes enjoy great outward success, which can stress out believers who might doubt whether they are still on the path of truth. But numbers never guarantee which side God is on, as Elijah or Noah could tell you. Popularity is not the same thing as truth; it might mean simply that a lot of fools are standing or sitting in the same place.
And so John is pointing out that there is great risk if we let these people or religions try and teach us about God. Instead we need to weigh them and recognize them for the decoys of Satan that they are. Test the spirits, says John. Compare their confession to the teaching of the apostles, just as the Bereans did when Paul the apostle came to their synagogue. God wants us to know the truth of his word so well that we can weigh it with the teachings of this world. That’s why your Christian education doesn’t stop at the doors of your confirmation class, but it is a lifelong study of God’s word, constantly refreshing us with that hope that God does have plans for you and that God loves you. That’s a comforting message that we want to wrap ourselves in all the time because there are so many decoys out there from Satan. The less we are wrapped in the truth of the law and the gospel in God’s Word, the harder it will be for us to test the ideas in the world. The less often we are in God’s word, the less we remember what the Bible has to say. In other words, if we remove God’s Word from the scale of weights and measurements, pretty soon that scale is one sided with the worldly thoughts and viewpoints, and all faith is lost. I don’t say this to sound depressing, but I join the gospel writer John and we say this out of love because we want you to know the absolute truth of what God has done for us. I don’t want you to be spiritually gullible but to be realistic with God’s Word and with the teachings in this world. Satan will do everything he can now to ruin our relationship with God eternally.
Knowing this, it can be lonely for Christians in this world. Imagine Christians across the world where Christianity is not a legal religion. Imagine how lonely it is for Christians sitting in college classrooms where truth is relative. Imagine how lonely it is when you’re the only Christian in your extended family. Imagine how lonely it is when you’re the only Christian in your immediate family and your parents go shopping while you go to Sunday school.
John has words of hope for us as Christians. Take a big sigh of relief. The struggles that you deal with on a daily basis, the pain and sickness that burdens you, the persecution you take because you are Christian, the false teachings and the doubts that threaten you, those things feel like a daily battle that we can’t win. But God says that in Christ, you have already won. God gave you the victory over those doubts and temptations. The word of God is mightier than the most intelligent professor. It is more influential than any TED talk. God gives fearful Christians confidence because we are more than conquerors. Jesus crushed the head of Satan on the cross. This spirit of truth has defeated the father of lies again and again. It is in the truth of God’s word that we measure all things. It is in that truth, the truth of the gospel, that our confirmands confess their faith. Cling to that truth the rest of your lives and don’t let go, even for a second.
Right now some of your own family and friends struggle with the idea of what is right and what is wrong? Who decides? Where does this truth come from? They don’t know what to measure with. By God’s grace, we have been given the truth of the gospel. That’s something we need to share with people looking for the truth. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear confirmands, may we continue to be reminded in the Bible of what truth is and what true love is so that we might be filled with that true love and share that message to the people of this world. May God bless our congregation and our confirmands! Amen.