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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Victory and Faith



The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Easter I, 2015
April 12th, 2015

Victory and Faith

“This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith...” I John 5:4

Does the word “victory” bother you?  Does it offend you? In our modern, or as it is often termed, “post-modern” world, it does seem to bother some people.  In fact, “victory” is a term that we don’t hear very often.  On the other hand, we do hear things like “negotiated settlement”, or “phased-in withdrawal”, or “limited engagement”, but not the word “victory” very often. 

  If one doesn’t truly believe that one’s cause it just, how can one be fully committed to achieving victory?  We will submit to you that dedication to victory requires absolute sureness in the correctness of one’s position.  One reason why so many people may be uncomfortable with the concept of victory has to do with the perception of their own lack of purity.  Putting it even stronger, it has to do with their relationship with evil. Not that they are necessarily evil, it is just that in our modern world, so many of us have some ambivalence towards evil and sin. It is not that we would countenance absolute evil or gross misbehavior, but rather that our current world situation is so imbued with sin that it is very difficult to avoid contagion. For example, look at the increasing coarseness of the language in media and movies, all in the interests of “artistic realism.” Thus, if we aware that we are somehow tainted, how can our motives towards, or our worthiness to achieve  victory be pure?   

 Our Epistle for the day dispels any doubt about the rightness of our victory, for one key reason: its source.  Rather than experiencing the lackluster approval our own spirits give us, or rejoicing in our  frequent deceptive  self-concept, we have something better.  We have a renaissance of something real, eternal, and perfect.                                                                                                                                                                   
We who are Christians are no longer of the world in the same sense as others; they have not tasted the sweetness of Christ.  Thus this statement: (1 John 5:4) “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”  We who are baptized, worshipping, committed Christians are in the world, but not of it because we trace our spiritual genealogy to Christ Himself. 

Considering this, how did Christ come and how can we believe His report? To answer this question,         let’s explore some of John’s motives for writing this epistle.  He was seeking to bolster the faith of the early church, but he also sought to defeat an early, sinister heresy that sprang up, called the Docetists. This group taught that Jesus was not really a man, but merely seemed to be so. Another group taught that Christ wasn’t God, but was only a man.  Since God couldn’t die, Jesus couldn’t be God.  Rather they had an idea that “the Christ” came upon Jesus during His lifetime, but suddenly left Him when he expired on the Cross.[1]

John refutes these positions by telling us that Christ came in this fashion: (1 John 5:6) This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood.”  Examining this statement closer, we see that Christ did not come by water only, that is, by baptism, whereby the spirit of “the Christ” came on Jesus, but water and blood.  Yes, Jesus began his ministry when the Holy Spirit alighted upon him at Jordan, ostensibly after His baptism.  He finished his work on the Cross, where His holy Blood was shed for us.  While Christ did not need baptism to receive the Spirit, recall that Jesus “suffered” John to baptize Him, in order to “fulfill all righteousness.”  His baptism was meant as a sign for us and showed that Jesus fulfilled, but did not destroy the Law.

Thus, John seeks to tie the water and the blood together to proclaim the unity of Christ.  The water and the blood agree on earth, while the Holy Spirit bears witness to the truth of Christ. John also tells us there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word (Christ) and the Spirit.  These three are one and they agree. Thus, we have the Trinity in heaven: Father, Word, and Spirit agreeing to the truth of Christ, and we have the earthly trinity: the Spirit, the blood, and the water agreeing also. According to the Old Testament Law, in the mouth of two or three witnesses, something was confirmed, so it is with Christ.  Since both trinities agree on the truth of Christ as both God and man, I is clear that Christ is not only man but God as well.

Consider this: is there such a thing as the sin of unbelief?  Is it actually a sin not to believe Jesus as the Son of God?  This is an interesting question, but it is one that John can answer with an unequivocal “yes.”  Why? Simply because he states that while the witness of man is important, the witness of God is greater. God has witnessed to the truth of His Son through his miraculous birth, his sinless life, his ministry, his passion, and greatest of all, his resurrection.  Besides all this, the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Son, and his witness is true.[2]

Continuing with this thought, those of us who accept the truth of Christ and believe in him receive a witness in ourselves. We simply know through faith that He is true.  On the other hand, those who reject God make Him a liar, because they reject the witness God has given us of His Son. It certainly seems that those who do this are sinning because not only do they reject the Truth, but they call the Truth a lie by their actions of unbelief.

Simply, John tells us the record that God the Father has given us of His Son:  God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  Those who have the Son have life, and those who have not the Son have not life.  It is at once simple and profound.

We Christians must have faith to believe, and that faith is in a man who was born of God, came among us, taught us, healed us, and ultimately died for us.  This too is simple and profound. 

In the end, our faith in this God-man enables us to overcome the world.  It is a faith that comes not from ourselves, but from the One who gives us all things. He Himself enables us to believe in Him as He draws us to Him. He enables us to love him because He first loved us.  He is able to give us unquenchable joy because He is the Source of all joy.

We will, in the end, overcome this fallen world through Christ. Through our faith in the record that God the Father has given of His Son, we have this witness in ourselves.  In the end, after all the hoopla and panoply of futility has passed by, we will have something else: a real, durable life in Christ that will not and cannot be overcome.

Do we have victory? 1 John 5:4   “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  AMEN