A man had a flower in his buttonhole. A friend asked, “George, what kind of flower is that in your buttonhole? George said, “Why it’s a chrysanthemum.” The friend replied, “It looks like a rose tome.” George said, “No, you’re wrong. It’s a chrysanthemum.” The friend said, “How do you spell it?” George said, Kris … No, its Khry…., no, it must be Cris…. You know, you’re right. It is a rose.” He wavered and changed what he thought. It’s difficult today to find people who are believable about their beliefs.
A British philosopher rejected historic Christianity. He did not believe. He once met a friend hurrying along a London street and asked where he was going. The friend said he was off to hear some well-known preacher preach. “But surely you don’t believe what he preaches do you?” The friend answered, “No, I don’t, but he does!” Somehow, we must get beyond saying, “He believes, the pastor believes, the writer of the book believes, the TV personality believes.” We must become people who say, “I believe.” Even better, we need to become people about whom other people say, “They believe, they really believe.” This message is about the importance of our belief is we want to go deeper in fellowship.
The Apostle John constantly called for strong, unshakeable belief – more so than other gospel writers. One of his big themes was “belief,” and “to believe.” Compare his references with references made by the other gospel writers. It occurs in 16 of his 21 chapters; all except 5. It occurs 53 times in his record of the gospel compared to only 9 times in Matthew, 14 times in Mark, and 9 times in Luke. Divided in to elevent categories:
- To believe Jesus – 4:21, 42; 5:46; 6:35-36; 7:38; 9:35; 11:25; 12:44, 46; 13:19; 14:10, 11.
- Testimony leads to belief – John 1:7; 4:42.
- Reasons to believe – John 1:50; 8:46; 9:36, 38; 10:25, 37; 11:15, 42; 14:29, 20:25, 27.
- The difficulty of believing heavenly things – John 3:12.
- Belief leads to eternal life – John 3:15, 16; 3:36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 11:26.
- Belief and judgment – John 3:18; 8:24.
- False reasons to believe – John 4:48; 5:44-47; 6:30.
- How it contrasts with unbelief – John 5:38; 7:5; 8:45; 9:18; 12:37, 39; 16:9.
- Belief and God’s work – John 6:29, 64; 10:26.
- Evidence of the disciples believing – John 6:69; 11:27, 48; 16: 30, 31; 19:35, 27, 31.
- Our belief beyond the disciples- 17:20, 21; John 20:29.
If we look at 1 John, we find his words there are like a summary of all he wrote in the gospel: God’s command – John 3:23, false belief – 4:1, new birth – 5:1, overcoming the world – 5:5, God’s testimony for belief – 5:10, and belief for eternal life -5:13. These references are significant because John’s three years with Jesus lacked an unshakeable belief. This Apostle loved Jesus, believed he was a special man, but he had a hard time believing he was God – until the resurrection. Even John’s books and letters were written 60 years after the resurrection. Maybe the Holy Spirit was waiting for his belief to go deeper. Such belief that goes deeper can be called conviction.
Our scripture is 1 John 1:1-4 because it shows the necessity of common conviction as the basis of an exponential fellowship.
What is a common conviction?
It is not a court conviction of criminal activity. I like the story of a judge listening to the testimony of two lawyers, one for the defendant and one for the claimant. He listened to one and said, “That’s right.” He listened to the other and said, “That’s right.” The first lawyer said, “But judge, we can’t both be right.” The judge said, “That’s right.” Conviction in a court room is not our concern. But there is a lesson here: people with our kind of conviction aren’t confused about what is right.
Conviction is… to believe, to have firm faith, trust, assurance, confidence, and reliance, to accept as true. Sometimes, it can be like a light bulb. We turn it on when we can’t see. The coming of light is immediate, explosive.
A common conviction is strong, unshakeable belief that is shared. It is not just the conviction of individuals in the church but in the church as a whole. It is a corporate (combined, cooperative) conviction. It can be personal. It needs to be corporate if we are to go deeper as a church. A common conviction is essential. It is exponential – the kind of belief that is explosive. It can explode into deeper fellowship.
We are not looking at a whole list of convictions. We are looking at a single, common conviction. That single conviction is belief in God. We want to be a people with strong, unshakeable belief in God. John aimed at this in his writing. God is central in 1 John. He is light (1:5), love (4:8,16), righteous (2:29), and LIFE (1:2-3,5:11,12). He is also central in the two small letters that follow: God is truth (2 John), and God is good (3 John). That strong, unshakeable belief is what John expressed in 1 John 1:1-2 – We have seen that which is before all beginnings. We have seen with our eyes. Our hands have touched it. What is it? The LIFE of God (vs.2).
This conviction about God is the basic ground for fellowship ( vs.3-4). God is central in exponential fellowship. Why? He is the LIFE of the party. We use that phrase to speak of certain kinds of people, usually the social types who like fun. But the life we are referring to is different. It is divine LIFE. It is the LIFE of the party when it comes to fellowship. God’s LIFE, not our lives, is what makes fellowship.
We call so many things ‘fellowship.’ But it ain’t fellowship unless God is in it; unless his LIFE is present in each person – and he is at the center. Fellowship is not just the gathering of our lives – that results in relationships, it is the presence of God’s LIFE – that results in fellowship.
There’s a difference between relationship and fellowship. Relationships are always centered around human life; fellowship is always centered around God’s LIFE. In relationships we share activities, opinions, interests, goals, meanings and values etc. In fellowship we share God himself, his LIFE. His LIFE is that which gives our fellowship its values, meanings, goals, interests, knowledge and activities. If a fellowship has no common convictions about God the Father and God the Son as in 1 John 1:1-3, it isn’t a fellowship. It is a human-centered relationship. Father and Son are bound as One in divine fellowship. How? By LIFE (John 5:26, 17:20-22). We, too must be bound as One in divine fellowship by sharing the same divine LIFE.
I John 1:1-4 provides a perfect ground for exponential, explosive fellowship. Why? Our strong, unshakeable conviction about God leads to fellowship. John wrote, “That you may have fellowship with us” – exponential fellowship. If you leave God out, you have ingrown relationships of exclusion. Fellowship comes with God. John added, “That our joy may be complete.” If you leave God out, you end with happiness but not joy. Joy comes with divine LIFE; happiness comes with human life. We can chose: incomplete happiness or complete joy.
So, conviction is strong, unshakeable belief. It is explosive belief. And, it leads to exponential fellowship.
What kind of convictions do we have about God?
I have been teaching five young men at the church. One day, I asked, “On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being little and 10 being very much, how much do you know God?” Their answers ranged between 1 and 6. Then I asked, “How much do I know?” They all said, “10.” I said, “No, we all have much room to grow in our convictions about God. Maybe I am just a 1.” If we believe in God but have no passion of the heart, no anguish of mind, even no uncertainty and doubt, and at times no despair, then we believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself. Knowing God is different than knowing about God. If we get God wrong, then whatever we get after that is going to be wrong. If we get God wrong, then nothing adds up to anything. It’s like adding zero to zero.
We may have good intentions to know God better, but obstacles are everywhere. Time is such an obstacle. Maybe we can only spare about 63 seconds a day to be with God. Even the very nature of the Bible can be an obstacle. It contains no doctrine of God’s nature or his spirituality. We must take something from Genesis, add something from Psalms, Isaiah, Matthew and Revelation to get a picture. Our limitations are another obstacle. One man said, “We are as ignorant with respect to the nature of God as is the beetle with respect to the nature of man.” We are like a beetle, an ant or a slug trying to figure out what it means to be a human. It’s like trying to understand the Indian Ocean by looking into a bucket full of water. Worse yet, we can be like a man trying to learn a lot about the sun by looking at its reflection in a dirty puddle. He won’t understand the sun that way. He will have to get much closer to fully understand it. The same is true of God, we can learn a lot about him by seeing his reflection in this dirty world. But to really know him we will have to get much closer. Our thinking may be a handicap. We may try to think harder about God. But our knowledge of God should not be understood from the point of view of our ability to reason but our ability to reason should be understood from the point of view of our knowledge of God. Our thinking may start from the wrong starting place. Even with the name we use for God. There are about 10,000 names for God in the world. Which name is best? How does the name affect us? We may start from being told that God is a person. This is a Western concept that is not biblical and I have had trouble using it to describe God in Africa. We may start from the concept of the trinity in terms of three persons. We can mistakenly put God into a system – religion. So, we study religion….
As we think about these hindrances, we can find comfort in Isaiah 55:6-7 and in Psalm 119:2. So, what kind of convictions do we have? How strong are they on a scale of 1 to10? Do we know God or do we just know things about God? What prevents us from knowing him more?
How can we get to strong, unshakeable belief in God for exponential fellowship?
The familiar story of Jesus and the woman at the well in John 4 contains four lessons.
- We can’t get to strong, unshakeable belief in God if we are living lies about ourselves (John 4:7-18). The woman’s conversations were first about common subjects – ethnic differences, water, historic connections. There were no lies so far. Jesus immediately brought God into the conversation – the gift of God and living water. Then he confronted her with the truth about who she was – a woman who had had five husbands and now a “come we stay” arrangement. They had only spoken a few words and he saw right through her and Jesus wanted her to know God. We can’t get to belief in God if we are living lies about ourselves
2. We can’t get to strong, unshakeable belief in God if we choose to see him through our preconceived religious eyes (John 4:19-26). The woman at the well wanted to argue religion. She brought up the subjects of prophets, worship and even the Messiah – but she never mentioned God. But Jesus wanted her to know God – he talked about worshipping God, not just worshipping. He told her, God is Spirit, and in vs. 26 – “I am God.” She learned that the great questions of belief are not about religion, they are the truth about who God is. But, we can’t get to belief in God if we choose to see him through our preconceived religious eyes.
- We can’t get to strong, unshakeable belief in God if we fail to share that with others (John 4:27-30).
A kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they were drawing. She walked around to see each child’s work. As she got to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was. The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.” The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.” Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing, the girl replied, “They will know in a minute.” We need that kind of passion to share what we know about God – even if we begin at 1 or 2 on a scale of 10.
The woman at the well suddenly had passionate conviction. She was in anguish of mind. Her uncertainty, doubts and despair now energized her. She dropped everything, left Jesus without so much as a goodbye and without explanation. Why? She had to tell the people back in town. A principle of communication comes into play: communication increases conviction. Winston Churchill once said, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” We need to hurry off and do something about the truth. We may think we have only one word or very little to say about God. A Russian writer wrote, “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.” One word about God can change the lives of people. So, we can’t get to belief in God if we fail to share those beliefs with others.
- We can’t get to strong, unshakeable belief in God if we don’t want to go deeper (John 4:39-42). Jesus challenged the woman at the well to go deeper and a new kind of relationship resulted. Her new relationship was first with Jesus and secondly with the townspeople. But something else transpired: the townspeople begged Jesus to stay longer. They wanted to go deeper. He did. He stayed two days longer. That’s the way God is. He will stay with us longer so we can know him better. But, we must invite him to do so. We can’t get to belief in God if we don’t want to go deeper.
We all believe in the necessity of food, but believing does not supply our bodies with nourishment. We must act on that belief and take food into the body before the belief is of any practical value. The act displays conviction – strong, unshakeable belief. We may believe that God is necessary to our life, but until we act upon our belief, we will always be wading around in the shallows and have no idea what it is like in the depths. Belief in God can be a mere conception of the mind. A strong, unshakeable belief – conviction – requires a decision. Belief can result in a mere conclusion; conviction results in the action of our hearts. Exponential fellowship requires decision and action.