By Pastor Stephen Hess –
Many people have heard the famous story about the speech that Vince Lombardi gave at the Green Bay Packers training camp in July of 1961. The previous season the Packers had suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and they had been stewing over this loss during the off-season. Now training camp had arrived and it was time to get to work. Many of the players were eager to take their game to the next level and start working on strategies to win a championship. But instead of focusing on championship strategies Lombardi decided to talk about fundamentals. In his speech to the team he began by holding up the pigskin and saying, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”
Lombardi knew that sometimes in life in order to succeed you have to go “back to basics.” This is true in many areas of our lives, but it is especially true when it comes to following Jesus. In our journey of discipleship, we have a tendency to lose sight of what matters most and to wander off track from the “narrow road” to which Jesus calls us. Consequently, it is helpful for us to periodically go back to the Bible and ask ourselves some questions such as: What does genuine faith in Jesus look like? What are the true marks of a disciple? Am I walking worthy of the gospel or have I wandered off track? By asking these questions we are calling ourselves to go “back to the basics” of discipleship.
One portion of Scripture that is extremely helpful in calling us back to the basics is the book of 1 John. In his first letter, John wrote to a community of Christians who were going through a number of struggles. It appears that there had been some conflict in the church involving both theological and behavioral concerns, and some members had left the community over these disagreements. In this midst of this conflict, John called these Christians back to three key basics of the Christian life.
First, he called them back to true doctrine. It appears that in John’s day, various forms of false teaching had crept into the church and some people were even teaching that Jesus was not the Messiah and the Son of God incarnate. In the midst of this, John sought to correct these errors and stressed that sound doctrine is an essential for healthy Christian faith.
Second, he called them back to obedient living. According to John one of the key indicators of a genuine faith in Jesus Christ is whether a person obeys the commandments of the Lord. He says in his letter, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn. 5:3). Simply put, John called believers to refocus their attention on the commands of their Lord.
Third, he called them back to fervent devotion. In this short book of the Bible the word “love” is used literally dozens of times. In fact, love is one of John’s central themes. On the one hand, John wanted his readers to understand the depth of God’s love for us. But at the same time, John wanted his readers to understand our central calling to love God and his children. As John says, “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).
These three basics—true doctrine, obedient living, and fervent devotion—are just as essential for the Christian life today as they were in John’s day. That is why this summer we are going to embark on a new sermon series called “1 John: Doctrine, Discipline, & Devotion” where we will be working our way through the book of 1 John. Each week as we work our way through this book my hope is that your faith will be both challenged and strengthened. This will be a great opportunity to step back and assess your walk with Christ. I pray that as you hear about the one who “laid down his life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16) you would be prepared to lay down your life for him.