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True God from True God.

1 John 5.18-21

A couple of weeks ago I was helping with some interviews for a Christian chaplain at a hospital. One of the questions that I asked was, ‘What is at the heart of your spirituality and your faith?’

An audio of the talk can be found here

It was the way that I asked that question, but 5 of the 6 candidates spoke about something that they did: they said that it was prayer.  Only one of the applicants said, without any pause, ‘Jesus Christ, my Lord’.

It is not about me or my praying – because sadly that is pathetic. It really is all about Jesus.

The clue is in the name: Christianity

And the Creed is nearly all about Jesus Christ, the Son of God:
About who he was – who he is – and about his death, resurrection, ascension and second coming.

This morning we focus on a few of the words in the Creed about who he is:

God from God
Light from Light
True God from True God

The creed, as I’m sure you will have heard, was shaped at a time when there was a dispute about who Jesus was.

There was no doubt in the minds of the early Christians that Jesus was a human being.
He was no cardboard cut out, floating 2 centimetres above the ground in his white nighty.
They saw how he went hungry and thirsty; how he was tired, sad, stressed, determined, joyful. They saw how he was tempted as we were; Mary knew all about his birth and many saw how he died.

They saw him, they knew him - or they were very close in time to those who had seen him and known him:

He was a human being.

The big question was whether he was something more?  
Was he an inspirational human being, maybe even a sort of superhuman or angel, or was he actually God on earth?

Imagine that there is a line here: This side is God and this side creation

Was Jesus on this side, or this side?

Was Jesus this side, one who God created, whose origins are in the created universe – who God raised up to rescue us, inspire us, to lead us to God? Or was he more?

Of course, to say that Jesus was on this side, on the creation side, of the divide is the most logical version, and very attractive.
It was the teaching of the Arians back in the C4th; it is the teaching of Islam; it is the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who say that Jesus was the Archangel Michael.
It is the teaching that says that Jesus was a prophet, a leader, an angel, raised up and inspired by God who teaches us the way of truth so that we can get to God.

But the consistent message of the New Testament, of the early Christians and of the Creed is that Jesus is so much more.

John is pretty clear on this.

His gospel begins with those well known words: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1).
And his gospel ends with Thomas falling down at the feet of the risen Jesus and saying, ‘My Lord and my God’

And the first letter of John ends with these remarkable words, spoken about Jesus, the Son of God, ‘He is the true God and eternal life’.

I’d like to spend a few minutes looking at 1 John 5:18-21 because they are helpful as we try to explore further what this means.

There are three ‘we know’s’ in 1 John 5

1.     We know that those born of God - those born again, from above, who have received the seed of the Word of God and allowed it to take root in their heart - do not sin.

That is a little confusing because we claim to be born of God and yet we do sin! And John recognises that we sin. He writes at the beginning of his letter that if we say we do not sin, we deceive ourselves, but that if we confess our sin, God will forgive us our sin.

The commentators say that an easier way to understand what John is saying, is to read it as saying that those born of God (i.e. who have within them the seed of the One who does not sin) ‘do not continue to sin’, ‘do not work at progressing in sin’. They have declared war on sin.

2.       We know that we are children of God in a hostile world. We have assurance.

3.       We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true.

The Father is described as Him who is true

a)       To be true is to be authentic. We speak of being true to your convictions, your word.  

We are in the middle of an election campaign. People are making promises. We want to know are they true? Will they, can they keep them?  

To say that the Father is the one who is true, is saying that the Father is absolutely authentic, absolute authenticity. There is nothing fake or false or artificial about Him. And therefore he can be trusted.

b)      To be true is to be real.

If we say that a fact is true, then we say that the fact matches the what-ness of reality.

The moon looks bigger than the sun, but it is true that the sun is bigger than the moon.

To say that the Father is not simply true, but the one who is true, is making a bigger claim than simply saying that the Father never lies. It is saying that all facts find their meaning, their truth in him.
It is saying that the Father is the ultimate reality of this world: the source, the sustainer, the meaning and purpose of all of this. It is saying that he does not just have life, but that he is the Life.

But if you notice, in 1 John 5, and I make no apologies that it is quite complicated – sometimes we need to get our brains working – John goes on and says,

“We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is trueand we are in him who is true, in his son Jesus Christ.”

Having told us that the Father is He who is true, he now tells us that we are in Jesus Christ, the son of the Father, who is true.
And then he makes the statement which has to apply to Jesus, ‘He is the true God and eternal life’.

In other words, if the Father is the One who is absolutely authentic and absolutely real, besides whom everything else is like a shadow; it is saying that Jesus Christ is also the one who is absolutely authentic and absolutely real, besides whom everything else is like a shadow.

That ties in with what John has taught: ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God’
Jesus Christ is the ultimate meaning, the deep – deepest – meaning of the creation.
And John tells us not that Jesus teaches us the way to God, truth and life – but that he is the way to God, the truth and the life.

The first followers of Jesus came to know him here – as human – very much on this side of the divide
But they also came to know him as the one who was here – on the divine side of the division. ‘He is the true God and eternal life’.

In other words, Jesus doesn’t just lead us to this line of meeting with God

That is what the prophets do. They bring us to that point when we can begin to glimpse God and know what God expects of us – but the actual encounter with God remains a far-off country. We still have to cross the line.

And that is the problem

We, who are mortal, can only encounter the immortal if we are immortal
We, who are sinful, can only encounter the holy if we are holy.

But Jesus – because he is human, and because he is divine, not only brings us to the line.

He is the line.

The Father is very definitely that side of the line. But he sends Jesus, who was also very definitely that side of the line, who was uncreated, with the Father in the beginning, to come to earth and to be fully one of us.

So Jesus becomes the line, the door, the gate between heaven and earth.

It is when we – on this side - step into Jesus, the Son, become part of him, part of his body, his Church, that we discover that in him we have become sinless, in him we have become immortal and that, somehow, by the grace of God, we have stepped into that once far off country of the Father.

God from God
Light from light
True God from true God

And then, having taken us up to holy places of deep mystery, John brings us back to earth and says, ‘Little children, keep yourself from idols’.

Having learned this about Jesus, the Son of God, the one who is true, John urges us, don’t go back to creating idols which you then worship.
Don’t worship ghosts or phantoms – things that are not ultimately real, things that are not true, things that may look very attractive, that may look alive, but are not life.
Don’t put things in the place of God that are not God.
Don’t make the one you love or a dream of love your God, your career God, your political party God, your football team – even Ipswich Town - God, your family God, your home God, your reputation God, your comfort God.
Don’t make yourself God; don’t make your religious life, your spiritual disciplines, your prayer or way of praying God.

If you are looking to build your life on what is true, there is One who is true and there is also His Son, who was in Him and came from Him, and came to us, and He also is true.

And through him we can become part of God.

There is the story told about the Sunday group teacher who asked her class, ‘What is furry, has sticky out teeth, climbs up trees and has a big bushy tail?’
One of the children whispered to a friend, “It sounds like a squirrel, but I bet the answer is Jesus”.

It really is all about him.

One last thing. I’ve recently been reading and been quite inspired by David Ford’s writing, especially on John and on glory (Glorification and the life of God)
He writes that the creed is not just a statement to be declared but a prayer to be prayed.
It is not just a declaration of what is going on up here in my head: I/we believe
It is also a declaration of what is going on in my heart. Pisteuo can be translated as believe, but it is better translated as trust.

So as we say ‘We believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God … God from God, light from light, true God from true God’, we are saying, ‘We put our trust in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is true God from true God’.

I trust that he is the door, that ‘in him’, as part of him, as my life flows into him and his life flows into me, I have become part of God – and that in him I do not need to continue to sin, and that in him I am a beloved child of God, and that in him I know the Father.

I trust him. I stake my life on him. I stake my eternity on him.


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