To See the Alteration (I John 3:16-21)
Topic: I John Passage: 1 John 3:16–3:21
The Gospel According to Scrooge
To See the Alteration
I John 3:14-19
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
December 20th, 2015
I. Keeping Christmas
Is it your desire to “keep Christmas well”? For some, that might mean getting all the cards out on time, or getting just the right gift for each person on their list, or decorating the house so amazingly well it makes your neighbors jealous.
But when Charles Dickens used those words to describe Ebenezer Scrooge, he had a very diffferent idea about what that means. Remember what he wrote:
...and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!
To “keep Christmas well”, as Scrooge put it earlier in the book, to “try to keep it all the year”, must be directly connected to the spiritual intervention he experienced in the hours between Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. Is it your desire to “keep Christmas well”? It should be. If it is, then we need to think once more about what we've been calling “the gospel according to Scrooge”.
A Christmas Carol is a well-known and much loved holiday tale. But many people miss that this story of redemption at Christmas points us in so many ways to the gospel of Jesus Christ. For example, the character of Scrooge should remind each of us of what God's word tells us about our own sin: that before we judge Scrooge, each of should not miss the miser in the mirror.
But there is even more here. There is even more that can help us understand what God has to say about redemption at Christmas. Turn with me to I John 3. We'll look this morning at verses 14-19 of chapter 3.
II. The Passage: “Because We Love” (3:14-19)
Look at what John tells us here about the redeemed life. He assures his readers by saying:
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.  By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him...
So before we tie the words of John to the words of Dickens, let's make sure we understand what John is saying here. I want you to see right away what is reflected in the outline you have on your insert, namely, that this passage is all about love. Verses 14 and 15 emphasize love and life, verses 16 and 17, love and sacrifice, and verses 18 and 19, love and reassurance. Let's briefly talk about each one of these parts.
1. Love and Life (3:14, 15)
First of all, look again at what John says in verses 14 and 15 about the relationship between love and life. Love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, declares John is verse 14, that love is an indication that we have...what?...”passed out of death into love”. Do you see that? And if we do not love, the opposite is confirmed in a similar way. The one who does not care about his brother or sister in Christ...”abides in death”.
And notice in verse 15 how John goes on to expand on what it truly means to “not love” our spiritual siblings. If we do not love, we “hate”. “Love” and “hate” represent a very common Hebrew way of talking about ultimate reality. While we love to think about a spectrum of loving, then liking, then being ambivalent, to disliking, then to hating, the truth is that we either are “for” people armed with God's love, or we are “against” armed only with our sin. That's it.
And our failure to love, whether it spring from indifference or hatred, our failure to love is a disdain for the life God has given to all people. It is a kind of murder, just as Jesus equated anger and murder in Matthew 5. And so the end of verse 15 simply reaffirms the end of verse 14: no such “murderer has eternal life”, but (v. 14) “abides in death”.
So giving the love of Christ to others is evidence that we have received the love of Christ ourselves.
2. Love and Sacrifice (3:16, 17)
But if we look again at verses 16 and 17, we see how John expands on that key word “love” by describing what this kind of “love” really looks like. Not surprisingly, this love looks the love of Jesus, that is, it is sacrificial love. When Jesus “liad down his life”, we have no probably recognizing the look of love.
But do we recognize that same love in the lives of His people? Do you recognize that same kind of love in your own life? John is very explicit about what this looks in practice, isn't he? Look again at verse 17:
But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?
When we are indifferent and insensitive, when we are miserly in the face of our brother and/or sister's need, when such an attitude characterizes us, it says something very scary about the reality of our spiritual poverty; about the reality of our spiritual position. Remember verse 14: We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. And what does that love look like? Like sacrifice. It looks like a life of giving, not grasping.
3. Love and Reassurance (3:18, 19)
But there's something else John tells us here. Do you see how his tone shifts in verse 18. As he does throughout this letter, we could say he becomes fatherly. He calls them his “little children”. And what does this spiritual father do with his “little children”? He reassures them using these very ideas about love. Look again at verse 19: By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him...
“By this”? By what? By this kind of love? That's why the previous verse, verse 18, is an explicit exhortation, a clear and strong encouragement to genuine Christlike love: Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
When the chips are down, John says, talk is cheap. Our words can absolutely be vehicles for love. But when love demands something else from us, like our time or our treasure, and we are only willing to offer words, something is wrong. This should remind us of what James wrote, using the keyword “works” instead of “love”:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
But when we give like Jesus, when we care like Jesus, we can draw water from the well of reassurance. Why is that? Because, as the rest of John's letter reminds us, love specifically, and righteousness generally, are natural and expected expressions of a new birth. Just listen to what John has said and will say”
If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. (1 John 2:29)
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9)
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
You see, if we have been born again, if we have been born of God through faith in Jesus, then love is now part of our spiritual DNA. We can't not love. This is why John can be so black and white about love and life, about love and sacrifice, about love and reassurance.
III. New Eyes, New Life
But what does this have to do with Scrooge? Well, you may remember from last week that we talked about what such a miserly miser desperately needed. We talked about what all of us need as spiritual misers, as graspers and getters, not givers.
What Scrooge needed is what each of us needs: a spiritual intervention that gives us new eyes to see the past, present, and future.
And for Scrooge, how do we know that such an intervention accomplished the goal for which it was designed? Simple. As we heard in our opening reading, he changed. Scrooge was transformed. The man who left his home on Christmas morning was not the same man who had entered the night before. He was a given a second chance, and he took it...and he relished it...and he clung to it. He treasured that opportunity with the same passion with which, for so long, he treasured his money.
Brother and sisters, friends, the powerful picture here points us straight back to the powerful principle John was declaring to his readers: new eyes from a spiritual intervention always lead to a new life of goodness and love.
Let me be clear: the gospel is an announcement of what Jesus accomplished. It is not a call to specifc moral reforms. It is a declaration of the cross and empty tomb of Christ. It is a declaration of what God has made possible for spiritual rebels, slaves, and corpses like us. Our saving response to it is not “to be better” or “to clean up our act”. Our saving response to it is simply faith. We must ask, “Do I trust in what God has said and in what Jesus has done? Do I believe it, do I embrace it with all my heart?”
So this principle that new eyes from a spiritual intervention always lead to a new life of goodness and love, that principle is not the gospel itself. But it is directly connected to it. Remember what John said about why this is so important. We are called to believe the gospel, right? But how can we know if we have truly embraced it in a saving way? John answers, God answers: We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.
Dickens made it clear that Scrooge was a changed man, as John would put it, “in deed and truth”. His first instincts were to give to the Cratchit family; and then to give to the men who were seeking donations for the poor, the same men he had driven from his office the day before.
And so just as Scrooge once represented the quintessential grasper, he must also represent for us the quintessential giver. Calling someone a “Scrooge” almost always refers to the old Ebenezer, the one enslaved to greed before his spiritual intervention. But there is another “Scrooge”, isn't there? Remember what we heard:
He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset...
I want you to do something this morning. I want you to do something in light of what we've seen this morning. I want you to take a good, hard, honest look at your life right now and ask, “Like Scrooge, am I a changed person because of the spiritual intervention I experienced by God's grace?”
Do you look at the new day and say, “Oh, glorious, glorious!” Could it be said of you that he “found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk—that anything—could give him so much happiness...”
Maybe at one point in your life, this was true. Maybe there was a dramatic shift in your life and lifestyle because of Jesus. But maybe you've gotten comfortable. Maybe things are just hard and dry and colorless now. Maybe a vapid routine has replaced the vibrant relationship you once enjoyed with God.
Does this mean you lost or never had “new eyes” and “new life”. Not necessarily. John was writing to a church that was obviously struggling. Struggle is explicitly and implicitly acknowledged in the NT as a part of the Christian life. But struggle is not the same as a settled apathy. Struggle is not the same as selling out. We should never get comfortable living like the old Scrooge, but instead, never stop struggling to live like the new Scrooge.
And how do we do that? By remembering that “new life” was, and always is, preceded by “new eyes”. I'm guessing that, in that ficitional world, when Scrooge again felt even a tiny tug of greed on his heart, he simply remembered what he had seen on that fateful Christmas. Shouldn't we do the same? Isn't that why we are called to not neglect meeting and to encourage one another each day, and to speak the truth in love to each other?
Oh, that our friends and nieghbors and co-workers and family members would always see the alteration in us, the alteration that springs from God's grace!
But maybe this morning, maybe you've never truly experienced that spiritual intervention. Maybe, as the Apostle John made clear, your life contains evidence of this very thing, that you are, if you are being honest with yourself, a grasper, a getter, not a giver. And maybe you are inspired by the change you see in Scrooge. Maybe you want, maybe you know you need, that kind of change.
Well, God wants to give you a new heart this morning. Because of Jesus, because he died in our place, and defeated sin and death, God can and will forgive you this morning. He will set you free. He will welcome you home. He will change you. Just reach out to Him. Ask Him to do that because of Christ.
If there is one thing A Chrismas Carol does for us, it is this: it reminds us that Christmas is ultimately about redemption. Isn't that why Jesus was born? To redeem us? To forgive graspers and turn them into givers. To pardon misers and change them into ministers, servants serving in love? That's what it means to “keep Christmas well”.
The Gospel According to Scrooge is a powerful reminder that God's blessings go far beyond his gifts of food and clothing, and family and freedom. His greatest blessing was Jesus. And because of Jesus, we can have the blessing of both new eyes, and a new life.
And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!