Confident Christianity

Bible Book: 1 John  1 : 1-4
Subject: Christianity; Authentic Christianity; Christian Faith

1 John 1:1-4:1 "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete."



One of our favorite TV shows these days at the Adams house is the History Channel’s Pawn Stars. If you’ve ever seen it then you know that Chumley and the rest of the crew are constantly dealing with customers who come into their Las Vegas store wanting to sell or pawn things—things these customers think or HOPE are worth a lot of money. They bring all kinds of stuff into the shop—everything from old civil war uniforms to World War 2 bomb sites—a wide variety of interesting items that make the show very entertaining. You can learn a lot about history simply by seeing the things that come through that pawn shop.

Now—before agreeing on a price on something that a customer wants to sell the staff of Pawn Stars will almost always call in an expert to verify the authenticity of that item so as to determine its value. And—many times this expert will discover that the thing being sold is not authentic but instead is a cheap imitation.

For example, in one episode a man brought in a VIOLIN and asked for an appraisal. According to the man’s story, he had recently purchased a piece of property that included a house and a barn. Shortly after his purchase, while inspecting the barn, he found an old chest and discovered the violin safely tucked inside. As he dusted off the near-perfect instrument, he found the word “Stradivarius” clearly inscribed on the violin. The man was hoping the “Stradivarius” was worth millions of dollars. But after it was appraised by one of the Pawn shop’s experts it was determined that it wasn’t a genuine Stradivarius. Instead, it was a cheap imitation produced in the early part of the 1900s, worth around five or six hundred bucks. The appraiser concluded by telling the crestfallen violin owner, “Just because something has a LABEL doesn’t mean it’s REAL.”

This particular episode came to mind as I prepared for this message because our text for the next few months underscores this same basic truth. Over and over again it says that just because someone wears the label “Christian” doesn’t mean he or she is the real thing. I’m referring to the first epistle of John and this morning we are beginning a twelve-week study of this little epistle. The issue of spiritual authenticity was a big problem when it was first written and it’s still an issue in our day and age.

Let’s begin our study with a look at the SETTING—the BACKGROUND of its writing. This epistle was written around 90A.D. — six decades after Jesus ascended to Heaven and by this time the church was made up of second or third generation believers. At the time of writing, John was probably the only surviving member of the Twelve. John wrote five books in the New Testament: the Gospel of John, the book of Revelation, and the three epistles that bear his name.

John also founded several churches in the Mediterranean world but was mainly known as the pastor of the church at Ephesus, which was founded by the apostle Paul.

For many years John was an overseer of all the churches in Ancient Asia Minor and he wrote these three letters or epistles with those churches in mind. John would have been in his late 80’s at the time and as the last Apostle he of course spoke and wrote with great authority. Everyone listened when John talked. The main problem he addressed in his letters was false teachers who were infiltrating some of the churches he had founded or pastored—teachers that distorted the truth of the Gospel and led some believers to embrace sinful lifestyles. I imagine John remembered that Jesus had foretold this. In Matthew 24:11 our Lord had said, “Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.” Paul also warned his readers about this problem. He wrote the leaders of the church of Ephesus and said, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. And from among your own selves will arise men, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 10:29-30)

Well, the false teachers that were causing all these problems were the beginning of a way of thought known as Gnosticism. Here’s a quick summary of their teachings. Gnosticism taught that the way to salvation was through gaining secret superior knowledge. Let me put it this way—whereas Agnostics say that they DON’T know—they DON’T know if God exists and if He does He is unknowable—Well, Gnostics say they DO know—they say their KNOWING—their KNOWLEDGE is the secret of salvation. And this “secret knowledge” is basically their teaching that all matter is evil and the spirit is good. PHYSICAL is bad—SPIRIT is good.

Christians who were foolish enough to embrace this way of thinking went to one of two EXTREMES. The first was ASCETICISM, where you punish your physical body so as to free the spirit. Think of this as FLESH-FASTING. They reasoned that since the body is matter and therefore evil it must be purged. In this extreme people would UNPLUG from the material world. The other extreme was LICENTIOUSNESS, a word that means live any way you want.

Think of this as not flesh-FASTING but flesh FEASTING because people who embraced this perspective said “Do whatever you want because matter doesn’t matter.” Instead of unplugging from the WORLD, they unplugged from any MORAL RESTRAINT. They said that, after all, if your body is evil and spirit is good then it does not matter what you do with the body. Rules don’t matter when it comes to matter.

Well, it’s easy to see how these false teachers could lead Christians to sin. But there is more we need to understand about them. You see, because of their views on the physical and the spiritual, Gnostics embraced two very serious DOCTRINAL errors. One was their belief that Jesus was not a real man. They said He just APPEARED to be a man. They denied that Jesus had a real body because of course matter was evil. So—they said Jesus was FROM God but was not God become FLESH. He was a ghost or a phantom that only appeared to have a real body.

Other Gnostics said Jesus had a body but He was just an ordinary man and not God in human flesh…because of course a perfect God could not be flesh since all matter is evil. These guys said Joseph was Jesus’ real biological father but at Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit came on Him. And that’s when the man Jesus became “the Christ.” The Holy Spirit was with Jesus for His three-year ministry but when He died on the cross, the Holy Spirit couldn’t be associated with suffering and death so He departed.

Now—the sad thing is that Gnosticism didn’t die out in the first century. It’s still around in various forms in our day and age. We see Gnostic thinking in the hedonism of our culture that says, “Grab all the gusto you can in life—morals don’t matter.” The Da Vinci Code is a book that taught modern Gnosticism with its secret “knowledge” about Jesus and Mary Magdalene—where SHE not he was the Christ. And there have been other books written over the last couple decades that claim to have discovered the “real” Jesus—who was a good man and taught some wonderful things but was not the Son of God—just a man like you and me.

The fact is any belief system that distorts or denies the divinity of Jesus—is a modern form of Gnostic thought—which is one reason God inspired John to write his epistles and made sure they were included in the canon of Scripture. God knew you and I would need this part of His book to deal with the challenge of this kind of false teaching. He knew these flawed ways of thinking would cause a lot of confusion both in the first century and in our day and age—as to what it really means to be a Christian. A few years ago interviewers for a radio show in Philadelphia went out on the streets and asked people, “What is Christianity?” and the answers they got were surprising. Some said Christianity is “the American way of life.” Others called it “an organization.” Some said it was an “ethic.” One man termed Christianity “a tool used by capitalists to repress the poor.” When the interviewers tried to help the people by asking, “And who is Jesus Christ?” the answers were even more outlandish. One man said Jesus was “the pure essence of energy.” Another said, “He was a good man.” Many just said, “I am not sure…I just don’t know.”

Well, if you struggle with these questions or if you know someone who does—listen up because in our text for this morning—which forms the prologue for John’s epistle—we find answers as John begins to explain what it means to follow Jesus—what Christianity really is.


First John says Christianity is based on FACT not FICTION. (I am indebted to Bryan Wilkerson for much of this first point) Now—remember—as I said John was writing toward the end of the first century which means that the first generation of believers—those who actually encountered Jesus had just about died off. In fact, most believe that at this point John was the last living apostle and he was writing to what we would call 2nd and 3rd generation Christians.

By “2nd generation,” I mean people who never personally encountered Jesus of Nazareth but heard about Him from someone who had. “3rd generation” believers were those who heard about Jesus from someone—who heard about Jesus from someone who actually met Jesus. You get the idea. Well, after three generations things got a little ragged. Questions came up. Doubts began to creep in: “Did all this stuff we hear about this Jesus guy really happen? Is it all really true?”

Just curious—how many of you are 1st generation Christians? In other words, your parents or grandparents were NOT Christ-followers? How many of you are 2nd generation Christians—that is, your parents were committed believers and you came to faith as a child or young adult? How many are 3rd generation believers—both your parents AND grandparents were Christ-followers?

Well, the GOOD thing about being a 2nd or 3rd generation believer is that you have a RICH SPIRITUAL HERITAGE—you grew up knowing about Christ and the Bible and the Christian life. That’s a good thing! I’m very thankful to be at least a 3rd generation Christian because it gave me a head start on my spiritual journey and that saved me a lot of grief. I have a rich Christian heritage on both sides of my family going back to my great grant-parents and beyond.

The DOWNSIDE to being a 2nd or 3rd generation believer is that you don’t typically have the kind of DRAMATIC CONVERSION EXPERIENCE a 1st generation believer has. You probably can’t point to some powerful transformation or flash of insight. No—you just sort of grew up into the faith. The gospel, the church, the Bible—they’ve always been there for you. And it’s easy for the wonder to wear off after a while or to find yourself asking if it’s all really true.

Well, John was writing to people like that. They weren’t there when Jesus lived and taught and died. They were going on the testimony of others…or the testimony of the testimony of others.

In short, many were going on HEARSAY. This made them ripe pickings for these false teachers who were messing with the basic Gospel message—teachers who were questioning the HUMANITY of Jesus or the DIVINITY of Jesus. These 2nd and 3rd generation Christians were vulnerable to these Gnostics who said that Jesus just appeared to be human—appeared to have a body—appeared to die—appeared to rise from the dead bodily.

So John wrote to these 2nd and 3rd generation believers at this precarious time in the life of the church to set the record straight. He wanted to give them confidence in their faith. He said, “Listen guys. I was there! Jesus Christ really lived. I SAW Him. You’ve heard the story about how He healed the sick or the one about the time He multiplied the loaves and fishes or the time He calmed the storm at sea or the time He raised Lazarus from the dead after he had been in the grave FOUR days. Well those aren’t just stories because I saw it all happen. I was there. I HEARD Him teach. I heard Him say, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ And ‘I and the Father are one.’ I even TOUCHED Him.” Maybe John was remembering when he leaned up against Jesus at the last supper or of the time when the risen Jesus said to Thomas, “Touch Me and see! A ghost does not have flesh and blood like I have. In fact, give Me something to eat. That broiled fish looks great. Can I have some?”

Do you remember when I-phones with their touch screens first came out? It wasn’t enough to see them advertised and hear people talk about them. You had to actually hold one in your hands.

When you met someone who had one you said, “Let me see that.” What you meant was, “Let me feel it…let me handle it…let me touch this screen a little…let me try out a few apps and see if it’s everything it’s cracked up to be.” Well, that’s the language John is using here. He’s saying, “Me and the other apostles—we’ve seen Jesus. We’ve heard Him. We’ve ‘handled’ Him. And I’m telling you He is everything You’ve heard Him to be.”

Well, here we are 2,000 years later being asked to believe the same stories. We’re not two or three generations removed—we’re FIFTY generations removed. That’s a lot of time for questions and doubts to creep in—a lot of time for the message to be corrupted by people like Dan Brown and other modern day Gnostics. So John would say to us what he said to his first century readers: “Jesus Christ really lived! We saw Him, heard Him, touched Him! What I heard from Jesus sixty years ago is still ringing in my ears as clear as a bell today as when I first heard it! What I saw sixty years ago when Jesus was on the earth is as clear and vivid to me today as it was then. We looked upon Jesus and touched Him with our hands in specific times and specific incidents in the past. Jesus is the REAL DEAL! We heard Him teach. We saw Him do miracles. We saw Him die on the cross. And I’ve saved the best for last—We saw Him risen from the dead!”

Listen—we don’t have time for a lengthy discussion of the historicity of Jesus this morning, but we need to remind ourselves in 2014 that WE have compelling evidence for our faith. At the beginning of the New Testament we have not one, not two, not three, but FOUR eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, each written from a distinctive point of view yet all telling the same story. We have more manuscript evidence for Jesus Christ than we do for any other figure of antiquity. And in addition to the Bible we have several non-biblical references to the life of Jesus Christ—the Jewish historian Josephus, the Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius. We have Pliny the elder and so on. We also have the worldwide movement that bears His name—CHRISTIANITY—the most dominant and widely believed faith on the planet. And then of course we have the fact that the world MARKS TIME by the appearance of Jesus: BC or AD. But perhaps the most convincing evidence is the fact that we have two thousand years’ worth of people—BILLIONS of them—who like me claim to know Jesus personally—people who will testify that, “He is my best Friend—my closest Companion! He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own”—people who claim to hear and follow His still, small voice.

Our faith is not FICTION. It is FACT. Jesus Christ REALLY lived. The Gospel accounts are TRUE.


The second thing John says about authentic Christianity is that it is something that is meant to be PROCLAIMED and not kept PRIVATE.

Look at the first three verses of our text again. John says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we PROCLAIM concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and TESTIFY TO IT, and we PROCLAIM to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We PROCLAIM to you what we have seen and heard.”

If you count you see FOUR TIMES that John talks about SHARING his experience with Jesus with others. He’s saying once an individual encounters Jesus, he or she cannot help but tell others about Him. He’s saying that’s part of the REAL deal—part of authentic Christian discipleship. John knew that his experience with Jesus—he knew the message he and the other apostles received—was not only for themselves. IT was for the whole world. They had heard Jesus say as much—heard Him commission them to share the gospel, “…in Jerusalem and in Judea, and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” And John puts this proclaiming—this sharing—in an interesting way. He says telling others about His experience with Jesus: “makes his joy COMPLETE.”

You may remember that on my first sabbatical we spent some time at The Cove—that conference center set up for pastors and church leaders by Billy Graham in the mountains just outside of Ashville, North Carolina. While we were there we visited with Mike and Diana Brewer—former Redlanders who moved to Ashville several years ago. We went to church with them and afterward they told us they wanted to take us to a restaurant named Cheddars. I told Diana I had never heard of it and she said that’s because the restaurant doesn’t spend any money on ADVERTISING. They just have great food and they rely on customers who experience that great food to spread the word that Cheddars is a great restaurant—which is what Mike and Diana were doing. And—I have to tell you—it WAS GREAT food—plus—since they don’t spend money on advertising—it was very reasonably priced. Well, Mike and Diana were so happy to see us enjoy our meal. Their JOY was made complete by sharing the good news of Cheddars such that Sue and I had a great experience there. A few years ago a Cheddars opened in my mom’s home town over in Delaware and I told mom, “You’ve got to go—it’s great food!” And MY joy was made complete when mom went and said, “You are right—it’s great food!”

That’s what John is talking about here. He is saying that the Christian experience is incomplete until you’ve shared it with others. He’s saying that a big part of the JOY of following Jesus—is leading others to follow Him as well. There’s a special satisfaction that comes from seeing others come to know Jesus as a result of your telling them about Him. It’s what Jesus was talking about after He led the Samaritan woman at the well to faith. Remember? His disciples asked Him if He wanted something to eat and He said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about!” (John 4:32)

As you may or may not know, we’ve had ESL classes here at Redland for five or six years now. Jim Burke leads this ministry that offers four levels of instruction—and currently we have about 50 students from all over the world. We do these classes in order to get opportunities to share the gospel message—but until recently we didn’t see a lot of fruit in that area. I’m not saying our ESL teachers didn’t make an impact or that God didn’t use them to push people toward faith. I’m saying we just didn’t see much of it. But in the past few months we’ve seen two people from atheist nations move toward putting their faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, two weeks ago a bunch of our ESL teachers drove to Darnestown to see one of their students being baptized at a Chinese church. When Sue came back from that service it was obvious that her joy had been made full. She rejoiced to tell me all about the service—all about that a man who had put his faith in Jesus.

Let me ask—have YOU experienced that joy? If not—could it be that your walk with Jesus is IN-complete because you are not testifying—not proclaiming—not telling others about YOUR experience with Jesus?

You know, many times 2nd and 3rd generation believers don’t witness because, as I said, they usually don’t have what they consider to be a “powerful testimony.” They weren’t drug dealers or bank robbers who came to faith. They just grew up in a Christian home and based on their parent’s witness decided to follow Jesus themselves. That seems kind of “blah” to many when it comes to a testimony to proclaim—but that is a flawed way of thinking. Your testimony of YOUR experience with Jesus—Your sharing of what knowing Jesus means to you—how He helps you in your marriage and in your career—how He helps you deal with illness or fear—how He helps you make decisions—YOUR testimony of YOUR experience with Jesus is a POWERFUL thing. People will pay attention when you share it. I promise.

Matt Woodley, editor of, writes: “I had just purchased a nice pair of new hiking boots and I wanted to buy some buy some durable socks to accompany the boots. So I did what any sane person would do—I started shopping on Amazon. But I didn’t just look at the company’s product description. I carefully read the customer reviews. A particular brand and style caught my eye—a three-pack of Carhartt brand ‘work socks.’ Here’s how the company described the socks:

‘Our cotton crew work socks give you the extra cushioning and toughness you need to work hard all day long. Premium cotton provides soft comfort and the full reinforcement means the sock will hold up wear after wear.’

But the numerous five-star customer reviews were even better. Wayne from Oklahoma writes, ‘[These socks] are good looking. They wear like iron…They have ample padding in the heel. It will surprise me if I buy another brand …’ D.D. from Dallas proclaims, ‘I can’t believe how comfortable these socks are. I can wear them all day, and they are still comfortable. They are perfect for me…Highly recommended!!!!’ These people certainly weren’t ashamed to share their stories. Essentially, customer reviews are what we used to call ‘testimonials.’ In other words, they are personal stories about how the product impacted a customer’s life. Some experts claim that up to 85 percent of shoppers trust customer reviews.”

Woodley’s words remind us of the POWER of a testimonial. People value personal experience. In fact, they value YOUR experience with Jesus more than they would mine. After all, I’m a pastor. I’m expected to talk about Jesus all the time. But you—you’re a normal person—a REAL person—so what you have to say about Jesus carries more weight. They consider your testimony as a REAL person—more REAL. And the more you share it—the more you tell others how Jesus has impacted your life—the more your JOY as a Christ-follower will be made FULL. This is because authentic Christianity is something that is meant to be PROCLAIMED not kept PRIVATE.

John says one more thing about our faith as Christians.


He says it is a FELLOWSHIP not a SOLO ACT. Look at verse 3 again. John writes, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” John is reminding his readers that the Christian life was never meant to be lived out alone. We need the fellowship of other people who believe in God and follow His Son, Jesus.

There are many reasons we need this fellowship. First, we REQUIRE community. We were not designed to live life on our own. As our Creator said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We are BUILT to need deep relationships—we need friends who stick closer than a brother—friends who will divide our sorrows and multiply our joys—people who come along side of us and encourage us toward Christlikeness. We need fellowship with Christians because as Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

But John reminds us of another reason we need fellowship. We need it to help us deal with false teachers—people who distort the teachings of the Bible—people who diminish Jesus—and who therefore lead us to embrace immoral behavior—people who like the false teachers in the first century say, “Live any way you want. There is no such thing as sin.” In short, we need other Christ-followers to help us keep following Him. We need them so we don’t lose our way like many of the early Christians in Asia Minor had.
This week I read about a woman who was driving from Alberta, Canada to the Yukon. She didn’t know that you never travel that way alone, especially in a rundown Honda Civic. So she set off on a road usually reserved for four wheel drive trucks. Eventually she found herself in a truck stop in the middle of nowhere. Two truckers invited her to join them, and since the place was so small she felt obligated to oblige. “Where are you headed?” one of the truckers asked, to which she replied, “Whitehorse.” “In that little Civic? No way! The pass is dangerous in weather like this.” “Well, I’m determined to try” was her naïve response. “Then I guess we’re going to have to HUG you,” the trucker suggested—to which she replied, “There’s no way I’m going to let you touch me.” The trucker laughed, “That’s not what I’m talking about. When I say HUG I mean we’ll put one truck in front of you and one in the rear. That way we’ll get you through the mountains.” That entire day she followed the two red dot tail lights in the fog in front of her, as the two trucks HUGGED her through the dangerous pass as she made her journey. That’s what the right companions will do for our spiritual journey. As we share the journey of life together they help us keep on the road toward Christ-likeness. They hold us accountable and point us away from sinful behavior when need be. In short, they “hug” us to help us keep from getting lost or sidetracked. We must remember there is strength in numbers—especially in relationships with believers who are more mature than we are—believers who are further down the road toward Christlikeness. Plus— “lone ranger Christians” are prime targets for the enemy.