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A Conquering Faith
Summer Quarter: Confident Hope
Unit 3: Faith Gives Us Hope
Sunday school lesson for the week of August 22, 2021
By Dr. Jay Harris
Lesson Scripture: 1 John 4:2-3, 13-17, 5:4-5
Hope and Assurance: By This You Know
In this unit we are learning how faith gives us hope, and how hope, in turn, sustains our faith over time. In today’s lesson, we will be learning about a “conquering faith.” A conquering faith is one that withstands the tests the world throws at it. Instead of our relationship with God being thrown into doubt, a conquering faith enables us to come through difficulties all the more secure because of our relationship with God.
In our scripture, the language about a conquering faith is reserved for the last two verses. We need to pay attention to how our scripture builds up to this notion of conquering faith. We will see again and again that it has to do with what we know to be true. We’re not talking about knowing mere facts. We’re talking about an inner knowing.
Before we get into the first verse of our assigned scripture, it would be helpful to include the verse that comes before it:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone into the world.
(1 John 4:1)
We are accustomed to seeing the Bible refer to the “Spirit of God” with a capital S
. According to the Bible, we ourselves consist of body and “spirit” (with a lowercase s
). When God makes a connection with us, it is from God’s Spirit to our spirit. In 1 John 4:1, we see the word “spirit” used to refer to a spiritual influence that exists apart from our spirit and from God’s Spirit. Every “spirit” or spiritual influence is not to be believed. Every spirit, therefore, must be tested to see whether or not a particular spirit is from God or not from God. False prophets are essentially those who have come under the influence of spirits that are not from God.
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.
(1 John 4:2-3)
One particular kind of false prophet is also referred to as an antichrist. Notice that “antichrist” is not capitalized. It is not used as a proper noun, nor is it intended here to refer to one person or evil entity. In fact, in 1 John 2:18, the scripture refers to “antichrists” in the plural. An antichrist is a false prophet who sets out to undermine belief in Christ.
A recurring interest in the First Letter of John is identifying those who seem intent on undermining belief that Jesus is the Christ, for instance, or denies the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:22) One spirit influencing some of the antichrists denied that Jesus had come in the flesh, which is a denial in the incarnation – when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14) If you don’t believe Jesus came in the flesh, then Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross could not really have happened.
Evidently, these antichrists had been a part of the church, but then they had left and had gone out from the church: “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us.” (1 John 2:19) This is what our scripture is referring to when it says that the spirit of the antichrist is already out in the world. Now that we understand a little bit more about the antichrists, let’s shift our focus away from the antichrists.
Let’s shift our focus to those who are pro-Christ. How did you
know that Christ is who the Bible says he is? According to 1 John 4:2, "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses Jesus has come in the flesh is from God.” You know the Spirit of God because your confession of faith came from God. What you know came from God which gave to you your first insight into the presence of God’s Spirit within you.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.
(1 John 4:13-15)
We already heard the words, “by this you know,” in 1 John 4: 2; so, it sounds familiar to us when we read the words, “by this we know,” in verse 13. How we know something to be true is important.
We’re told that the gift of God’s Spirit living in us is what enables us to know that we abide in God and God abides in us. The truth that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world is a truth that we can say we have seen. It has become our testimony. Our confession of faith that Jesus is the Son of God opened the door to God abiding in us and us abiding in God. You could say that God’s abiding presence in us is a sign and seal of our confession of faith.
Knowing and abiding go hand in hand. Jesus gave us an indelible image of abiding, recorded by John, in his gospel (John 15:4-5): “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.
(1 John 4:16-17)
By now, the words, “so we have known and believe” should have a very familiar ring to them. Verse 16 tells us that knowing and abiding are intermingled with our experience of receiving and sharing love. Since God is love, those who abide in love also abide in God. Love has been perfected among us (that is, come to a state of completion in us) when we are able to have boldness on the day of judgment. As God is in the world, so are we in the world with God at our side.
Boldness on the day of judgment is no small thing. Boldness on the day of judgment means having assurance of our salvation. This is the truth to which our scripture has been building. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit living in us, God abides in us, and we abide in God, and we know God and God’s love for us, and God’s love is being perfected in us, so that we have boldness and confidence in our salvation.
For whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
(1 John 5:4-5)
A conquering faith is the gift we receive when we are born of God. Assurance of our salvation is one of the precious gifts that comes from our new birth in Christ. The doctrine of assurance is one of the distinctive emphases of the Wesleyan tradition. In Romans 8:15-17a, Paul expressed it this way, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.”
Notice that this assurance is not based on a formula like “once saved always saved.” Nor is it based merely on feelings. Christian assurance is based on the Holy Spirit bearing witness with our spirits in a relationship of knowing, abiding, and loving God, beginning with our faith in Jesus as the Son of God – the victory that conquers the world.
Fannie Crosby wrote in her famous hymn, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood. This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”
The doctrine of assurance plays a prominent part in the Methodist/Wesleyan tradition because of the experience of our founder, John Wesley (1703-1791), at the age of 35. Before this experience, he had already become a religious scholar, was ordained, served as a parish priest, led a campus ministry, and even served briefly as a missionary to the American colony of Georgia, but something was missing.
It was while on board the ship to coastal Georgia that a story began to unfold. A tremendous storm came up, which terrified the English passengers, but a group of German Moravians – men, women, and children – sang hymns during the storm and remained calm. John Wesley asked one of their leaders about their ability to remain so calm. He stated simply that they were not afraid to die. When they reached Georgia, John Wesley continued to talk to the Moravian leaders about the source of their confidence and peace. So, one of them began to question Wesley, “Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit, that you are a child of God?” John Wesley was surprised to be the one questioned. The Moravian leader asked, “Do you know Jesus Christ?” Wesley said, “I know He is the Savior of the world.” When asked, “Do you know that He has saved you
?” Wesley said, “I hope He has died to saved me.” When pressed to be decisive, Wesley told him what he thought he should say, but he wrote in his journal, “I fear they were vain words.”
When Wesley was on board the ship, almost three years later, traveling back to England in 1738, Wesley felt defeated as a missionary. He wrote in his journal, “I went to America to convert the Indians! But, oh! Who shall convert me? Who, what is it that will deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well – nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near, but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled.” When Wesley arrived in England, he came under the influence of another Moravian pastor, Peter Boehler. Wesley asked him if he should give up preaching. Boehler answered, “By no means.” Wesley asked, “But what shall I preach?” He said, “Preach faith till you have it; and then because you have it, you will preach faith.” John Wesley took this word of encouragement to heart, and he began to grow.
On May 24, 1738, Wesley’s spiritual journey reached a culmination point. He would later write about it in his journal: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my
sins, even mine
, and saved me
from the law of sin and death.” That event would prove to be the biggest game-changer in Wesley’s life. It was after this event that Wesley went from relative ineffectiveness to great effectiveness. He became the chief architect and motivator of a movement evangelizing England and bringing spiritual renewal to the Church. That movement spread to America and became a part of America’s Second Great Awakening.
This new birth of assurance sometimes happens in a moment and for others it is more gradual. Do you know if you are saved? For some, it is a matter of surrender. It is a matter of giving yourself wholeheartedly to Christ. That is the way it was for me. It was the day when, in my words, I gave my life to Christ. I gave all of myself to all of God I understood. That was only the beginning because there is more about God that I understand now, and I have more to give.
Are you holding back anything? Have you been too content with halfhearted religion? As a pastor, I have witnessed numerous people come to the point where a new birth of faith occurred in their life, and a new birth of assurance accompanied it. Some of these people had already been members of their church for years before it happened. There is no shame at all in that. The only shame is to go all of one’s life without having fully surrendered and without having placed one’s trust fully in Christ to be Savior and Lord.
God of our Salvation, You have graciously allowed Your Spirit to reside in the hearts of those who place their faith and trust in You. Now that we understand more about You, and there is more of ourselves to give, take our hearts and seal them, that your divine gift of assurance may grant us a conquering faith that the world can’t give and the world can’t take away. Through Christ our Lord, who reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.
Dr. Jay Harris serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Ministerial Services for the South Georgia Conference. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.