All Christians are on the road to heaven, yet the road is narrow and the ditches are deep on either side.  Sometimes Christians are in danger of falling into those ditches.  Christians in danger of falling off into the Ditch of Doubt ask, “How do I know that I’m a Christian?”  That is a question many Christians ask because their sin plagues them with guilt.  That guilt leads them to doubt in their status before God as a Christian.  Christians in danger of falling off into the Ditch of Presumption do not ask that question because they are comfortable in life and don’t feel guilt.  They presume they are safely on the road and do not need to worry about sin in their lives.  They need that question forced upon them.  Both Christians are on the road to heaven, yet barely.  (This illustration is borrowed from the book The Narrow Lutheran Middle by Daniel Deutschlander)

John writes his first letter (1 John) to help both types of Christians on the road to heaven.  “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)  John’s audience is made of Christians that you can find in any Christian congregation today.  Some need more encouragement not to sin.  Others need more encouragement that their sins have been taken away.

This past September I was asked to write a paper for the upcoming January Pastor’s Conference.  The paper is on 1 John 3:11-18.  I would like to share with you some thoughts that I’ve had.  In this section, John tells us that we can look at our life as evidence for where we stand in our Christian faith.  That evidence will tell us if we are driving safely or if we are in danger of falling off into a ditch.  John makes Christians ask themselves the question, “Is there love or hate in my life?”  This question is a test to see if a Christian is walking safely on the road to heaven.  In these verses, John goes back and forth speaking to each type of Christian.

“This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.” (1 John 3:11-12)  With these words John speaks to those who are in danger of falling into the Ditch of Presumption.  John reminds those Christians that they are to love each other.  They need to hear that encouragement because they have not loved as they should.  John commands them not to be like Cain, the murderer.  Those Christians will say, “Of course we haven’t murdered anyone. We are not like Cain.”  Yet John hints that murder is only the tip of the iceberg.  For Cain, murder was the result of what was beneath.  Anger, hate, and jealously was made evident by Cain’s actions.

“Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other.” (1 John 13-14a)  With these words John speaks to those who are in danger of falling into the Ditch of Doubt.  The world treats the Christians differently than the rest of the world.  They hate Christians because they are different.  These Christians were young and new to the faith.  They began to doubt their faith because they did not expect to face hate when they became Christian.  John reassures them that they should not be surprised about the hate they experience.  John points them to the love that they show one another.  The love that they show in their life is evidence that they are Christian.  They are no longer spiritually dead, but spiritually alive.  Christ’s love has made them alive and now flows through them in their words and actions.

“Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” (1 John 3:14b-15)  John warns those close to the Ditch of Presumption that if they continue lacking love they will die spiritually once again and remain there.  John reminds those Christians that hate equals murder, for Jesus had said a similar thing years before (Matthew 5:21-22). Those who hate and fail to love are murderers.  If that hate continues into a persistent hate, they no longer will have eternal life.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16a)  Now John encourages those who are in danger of the Ditch of Doubt.  John points them away from themselves and back to Christ who is the source of their love.  What amazing love that is that Christ gave up his own life for them!  That is how they know what love is.  That is how they can recognize that love in their lives.  Christ’s love assures them that they are Christians.  John encourages them to always focus on Christ.

“And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16b-18).  Now John encourages those who are in danger of the ditch of presumption.  He encourages them to show more love in their lives because Christ showed them the greatest love of all.  Christ’s love is their motivation to do such.

Every Christian walks the road to heaven, yet many times the same Christian will drift from one side to the other.  At different points in his life he will find himself on one side or the other.  As I’ve walked my path, I’ve noticed my drift from one side to the other.  I have looked at my lack of love in my life and asked myself if I truly am a Christian.  I needed reminding to put the focus on Christ’s love for me instead of focusing on the love I show in my life.  I have also needed reminding to show more love in my life because I had gotten too comfortable.  That’s why it is important to read all these words of John together.  A Christian never knows which side of the road he’s on until the Word hits him and directs him back to the middle.

So how do you know you are walking safely on the road to heaven?  John says, “Look at your life.”  If you see more hate than love, be careful.  You maybe be drifting into the Ditch of Presumption.  If you are worried because you don’t see yourself showing enough love, be careful.  You may be drifting into the Ditch of Doubt.  How do you know that you are walking safely?  Focus on Christ laying down his life for you.  Always keep your eyes focused on Christ and you will see evidence of his love in you.  When you see Christ’s love flowing through you, you know you are walking on the path safely.

Here are the reading introductions for your worship preparation:

The First lesson – Exodus 7:14-21
God showed Pharaoh that he has the power to change water into blood. This was done as an act of judgment. The purpose of this change was either to open hearts or harden them further.

The Second Lesson – Ephesians 3:14-21
God has the power to change us through faith. He has the power to grow our knowledge in Christ’s love. That power is already at work in us so let us pray for him to bless us.

The Gospel Lesson – John 2:1-11
Jesus reveals his divine power as God when he changes water into wine.