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Spiritual DNA

(This was a message that I preached at CrossRoads of Arlington on 11/7/10.  If you’d like, you can listen to it here.)

INTRO

Today, we mark our eighth anniversary as a church.  CrossRoads held it’s first service on the first Sunday of November 2002 at the Dottie Lynn Recreation Center just a few blocks over.

One of the things that Joe and I and our staff and our elders talk about is our spirit, our culture, our DNA, here at CrossRoads.  What is it that makes us distinctive?  What is it that helps us do what we do?  Why do we do things the way that we do?

If you were here for our past series, “Lessons From God,” you learned a lot of the backstory into what went into shaping CrossRoads into the church it is.  If you missed any of those lessons or would like to listen to them, you can download them off of Itunes or pick up one of the cd sets in the back of the sanctuary.

Let me give you a few examples of the DNA of CrossRoads that we discuss as staff and elders.  I hope that you can recognize them and I am just putting words to what you have experienced.

One, “We care more about the person than what the person can do for CrossRoads.”  We don’t view people as instruments to help us accomplish the mission of CrossRoads.  We want you to serve God where he has called you and where he has gifted you.  That may be at CrossRoads.  That may be at Young Life, FCA, Bible Study Fellowship, Camp Thurman, Mission Arlington, or some other group.  But if you choose to serve at CrossRoads, we try very hard to not take advantage of our volunteers.

Another is “When it comes to people, we want to do the right thing in the right way with the right spirit.”  It sounds easy and you would think a lot of churches would share this, but it can be difficult at times.  You can do the right thing, but not do it the right way with the right spirit, and consequently hurt people in the process. Sometimes, people can achieve the goal of doing the right thing while ignoring the wave of destruction that they created in the process. We want to get to the right thing, but we want to get there the right way, and we don’t want to sacrifice people in that process.

Those are just a couple of examples of what we consider to be the CrossRoads’ DNA, of how we strive to treat the people that God brings to this church body.  As we grow, as more people attend here, and as we add more services, it becomes more and more important for us to know our DNA.  But, that DNA cannot stop with those in leadership, but it must seep into all aspects of the church.  We want others to have the same experience that you have had.

As a church, we also have to go one step further.  We have to check ourselves with the Bible.  The DNA of CrossRoads is subject to what the Bible says the DNA of a body of believers should be.

As we continue in our study of 1st John today, we are next going to look at 1st John 4.  In this chapter, John explains and describes the spiritual DNA of individual believers and churches as well as challenges us as Christians and as a church to make sure that this DNA is a part of us.

John doesn’t use the word DNA, but DNA is a helpful analogy.  In the scientific world, as I understand it, DNA is similar to a blueprint or a set of codes that contain the instructions for what needs to take place.  DNA is made up of strands that contains the specific markers that create the instructions.  In order to study DNA, you might take something like a microscope, one more high powered than this one, to study these strands and their markers.  Once these strands are identified and named, a scientist would seek to understand them and once those strands and markers are understood, then that scientist would seek to understand how that DNA might find expression in a person’s life.

This morning, we will put on our lab coat and peer through our spiritual microscope as we look at John’s words to see what should be a part of the church’s DNA.  Just as importantly, what should be a part of an individual believer’s DNA?  After all, it is the individual believers who make up the church.

In this passage, John will only mention 2 strands, although there could be more.  But, the two that he addresses are two of the most important.

I.  THE DNA OF THE TEACHING (VS 1-6)

(Identify/Name it)

In the first verse of chapter 4, John instructs to look for this first strand, “1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

As we look under the microscope, John first tells us to investigate the teaching, the beliefs, of the individual believer and church.

What was happening among the first century Christians that would cause John to tell them to check for this particular DNA marker?  As a reminder, there were competing religious movements springing up.  Unlike the other religions that worshipped other gods and used different wording and had different practices, some of these new movements, like gnosticism, used the same language and symbols of Christianity.  However, they attached a different meaning to the language and symbols, which was causing confusion as well as leading people away from the church and causing division among people.

But how could this happen?  (One)  We live in a fallen world, and there will always be false religions that twist and distort the message of Jesus Christ.   Jesus even promised that this would be the case.  (Two)  Let’s keep in mind that the New Testament didn’t exist at this time.  They didn’t have one.  If John is writing this letter that we have in the New Testament, then it couldn’t have existed yet.

(Three)  Copies of the Old Testament were scarce.  It would be another 1500 years or so before the Guttenberg press would be invented, which would lead to the mass production of books like the Bible.  (Four)  In the first century, churches relied on the teaching of the leaders, and that made them susceptible.  A leader could claim that his message had been inspired by the Holy Spirit, and it could be difficult for someone to know whether or not to believe this leader.

John’s instruction to them, and to us, is to investigate what someone is teaching.  Just because someone has been given a platform to speak or the job of speaking does not validate what they are saying.  We have a responsibility to investigate, to name and identify, the substance of what that person teaches.  We have to know what we believe.

(Understand it)

As we put this teaching under the microscope, John tells us what to look for.  In verse 2, John continues “ 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”

He gives us a 3 part litmus test.  One, an acknowledgement that Jesus had an existence prior to becoming flesh.  “Jesus has come,” meaning he had an existence prior to this.  Two, an acknowledgement that Jesus is the Christ.  John says “Jesus Christ”  Three, an acknowledgement that Jesus became a man.  John says he has come in the flesh.

This litmus test is the fundamental core truth of Christianity.  This is the DNA marker that differentiates Christianity from everything else.

In fact, this is where the competing religious movements and Christianity differed.  These religious movements would emphasize that Jesus was a man like us and that God came descended on him and ascended from him at various times.  Christianity says no, He was from God, He is the Christ, and He came in the flesh.  John tells us to test what people are saying to see if it truly lines up with Christianity.  We can be using the same words, but understanding them with different meaning.

This would be such as issue for the early church, that as they grew and matured they created creeds and statements about what they believed.  One of the earliest versions of the Nicene Creed had this as its concluding statement, “But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church”

Again, John wrote, “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh from God.”

Continuing on John says, “ 4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”

Again, John makes the point that when a person becomes a believer in Jesus Christ, the spirit of God becomes a part of that person’s life, which then helps a person differentiate between truth and lies.

(Express it)

But this kind of confusion can’t happen today, can it?  After all, like those early believers, we have the Holy Spirit that lives within us, but we also have Bibles.  Lots of Bibles.  Maybe it happens in a place like China.  Someone interviewed a pastor in China, and although they’ve seen an explosion of Christianity in that country, one of the major issues they have is similar to the first century church.  Bibles are not readily available, and so they are dependent on the leaders who are teaching the people, and some those leaders are leading people into competing religious groups.

So maybe it can happen today, but it can’t happen here, in America, can it?  Here in America, we live in a spiritual whirlpool, and people can be persuaded into believing something that uses Christian terminology, but isn’t Christian, just like then.  People can be persuaded by a gifted speaker, a popular movement, or a clever idea.  In our culture, the competing religious movements have adapted and make it harder for people to differentiate from Christianity.  The response is “Yes, we believe that too.”  It’s critical for each believer to know what they believe.

A word of caution.  The evaluation and discernment of what someone is teaching or believes can go too far.  As followers of Christ, there is room and freedom to interpret and understand some aspects of the Bible differently.  Here at CrossRoads, another part of our DNA, is that we are a wide-umbrella.  We have people who are charismatic and non-charismatic.  We have some who are very conservative and some who are not.  We have hyper-calvinists, calvinists, and armenians.  We have ancients, modernists, and post-modernists.  We have traditional and contemporary.  Some of you may not even know what some of those terms mean.  All of those are encompassed at CrossRoads, which is unusual for a church.  But at our core, we all hold to the same thing, “Jesus Christ, son of God, came in the flesh.”

One strand of the church’s DNA, of the individual’s DNA, is what they believe.  We must know what we believe.  This first strand is critical because it sets the foundation for the rest of our spiritual DNA.

II.  THE DNA OF LOVE ONE ANOTHER (VS 7-21)

(Name/identify it.)

As John continues, he names the next strand in the first part of verse 7, “7 Dear friends, let us love one another,”

If we were to take some of our personal experiences with other believers and with other churches and put them under the microscope, some of us might say that we don’t see this strand in the DNA.

I can look back at my own church experiences, going back 25 years, and there were times when I wondered, really wondered, if the church I was a part of had this identifying mark.  At one church, the issue of moving to a new location came up.  Half of the staff were in favor of the move, and half were not.  Half of the church were in favor of the move, and half were not.  This took place in the time before email, so I would get letters in the mail from one side claiming that the other side were trying to railroad the issue and get their way.  The next week I would get a letter from the other side condemning the first group for the way they were acting.  Finally, both sides agreed to put the issue to a vote.  That morning, I remember watching people come up to the altar and pray that God’s will be done.  Actually, they wanted their way to be done.  When the results were announced, and the vote was something like 239 to 225, one side was angry and bitter while the other was happy and boastful.  As a young christian, watching that scene unfold, I remember thinking, I think we’ve missed something here.  “Loving one another” seemed to be missing at that particular moment.

Yet, John pleads with us to love one another, so let’s try to understand what this DNA marker looks like.

(Understand it)

Let’s go back to what John had to say, starting in verse 7, “7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

The capability as well as the capacity to love is trait that comes from God.  If I am relying on myself for the ability to love, I am a lost cause.  John tells us plainly, “love comes from God.”  And he adds, those who are loving one another, this is evidence of the fact that they “have been born of God and know God.”  This trait comes directly from God.

When I become a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, the bible teaches that something changes.  When Jesus talked about this, he said, “you must be born again.”  When Paul talked about this, he would say that “we are a new creation.”  When John talked about it, he would say that we have “moved from darkness into the light.”  The basic message is that upon becoming a Christian there is a spiritual change that takes place within us, and what that change does is give us the desire and the ability to selflessly love those around us.

Not only does John tell us that this capacity comes from God, but he also provides an example to us.  Because love is far more than a word or a thought or a feeling.  Love displays itself in action.  The example that John gives is the greatest demonstration of love.

John writes, “9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

This is the example:  God sent his son to this world as a sacrifice for us.  John includes that word “atoning” to draw our attention to the fact that this was done because our actions.  Specifically, our sin.  In the Old Testament, something the readers of this letter would be familiar with, animals were offered as atonement sacrifices because of the sins of the people.  The atonement sacrifice allowed for their relationship with God to be restored.  This is how God had set it up.  Because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, no longer would a person need offer animal sacrifices, because God has offered the ultimate sacrifice.  God’s rationale is offering this sacrifice for us is his love for us.

John started out with an admonition, “let us love one another.”  Next, he described how we have the capacity to love and gave us a demonstration of God’s love.  But then, instead of continuing to exhort us, John tells us in a very direct and straightforward way, we ought to do this.  In verse 11, “11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

This is the proper response to God’s demonstration of love.

Next, John continues to describe how we can find evidence of this love in our DNA.

Beginning in verse 12, “12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.  16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.  17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

At first reading, this can be somewhat confusing.  There are lots of occurrences of the words love and live, love is complete in us as well as among us, then there’s the day of judgment, perfect love, no fear, and you can’t hate others.

What is John driving at?  The key is verse 16, “God is love.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him.  God is love.”  If you could put God under the microscope, you would see love.

Let’s walk through what John has written and understand it.  If we love one another, God lives in us.  If we love one another, his love is complete in us and among us.  If we love one another, we have confidence on the day of judgment.  If we love one another, God lives in us and we are like him in this world.  If we live in him, we have God’s spirit within us.  If we live in him, we are believing that Jesus Christ, son of God, came in the flesh.   If we love one another, fear is being driven out and why not, since we have God’s Spirit in us.  If we love one another, we do not hate those around us.  We love because God first loved us, because God is love.

A natural question is why would John need to be telling the early church, as well as us, to love one another?  They were experiencing what many of us have experienced.  Although God gives us the capability to love one another, when we become a Christian we don’t immediately or instantaneously become perfect at loving people.  We can look at our spiritual DNA and see the marker for love there, but we don’t see it exhibited in our actions.  We still exist in this world with a lot of old baggage, and we are susceptible to those old influences.

We have to remember that the church John was writing to was in the middle of splitting and splintering.  When a group is splitting and splintering and arguing with one another, it’s very likely that they are having trouble loving one another.

John is giving us all a gentle kick in the pants reminder.

This is not to say that it will be easy to love all people.  For whatever reason, personality differences, cultural differences, past experiences, whatever, we may find it difficult to love some people.  But, we’re not excused from doing so.  In those situations, we are to go to God and ask for help.  I know I should do this, I want to do this, but I’m having a very difficult time doing it.  God help me see what it is in me that is preventing me from loving this person.  We can say all we want that it is them, but usually it is something within us that is preventing us from loving that person.  We have the capacity and the capability, we need his help to mature in loving.

(Express it)

But what does such love look like?  When we look under the microscope and we look for markers of loving one another, what does that love look like?

Is it to put peace sign around our neck, hug everyone we come into contact with, put a constant smile on our face, and pretend that everything is fine with everyone?

What does such love look like?

This love:  willingly goes to places it might not want; celebrates life like Jesus did at a wedding in Cana; takes the time to explain life and God as Jesus did with many people on many occasions; helps those in need; mourns and grieves with those in pain as Jesus did at Lazarus’ funeral; challenges those around; doesn’t pretend everything is okay but speaks the truth, sometimes with a whisper, sometimes by turning over a table, and sometimes over a meal; propels others to places in life to accomplish things they never dreamed possible; steps across political, societal, economic, and racial boundaries; serves those around; sacrifices like Jesus did for each and every one of us; doesn’t keep score; is the absence of all hate; surprises us again and again and again with its incredible power; this love comes from God.

CONCLUSION

Two markers in our spiritual DNA:  One, the foundation of it all, what we believe, Jesus Christ, came from God, in the flesh, for us.  This first strand sets the foundation for the second strand, to love one another.

When you put your life under the microscope of the Holy Spirit, what do you see?

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