Monday, May 16, 2016

No Wolves Allowed

Since becoming the Senior Pastor at Riverview Baptist Church a little more than a year ago, I have had three unique experiences wherein I was approached by people who wanted to attend Riverview as their home church.  This is a common occurrence in my position, as many people want to meet and talk to the pastor and introduce themselves before committing to attend a local church.  But these three instances were unique in that each one involved a person or people who were blatantly engaged in sinful behavior.  The specific details of each situation were unique, but it was clear that these three groups of people were living lifestyles that were not conducive to biblical truth.  In each instance, the inquiring party wanted to know from me if their chosen lifestyle would be problematic in regards to them attending our church.

In each instance, my response to their question was something like this: "All people are welcome to come to Riverview to hear the gospel preached.  At this church we call all people to continually turn from their sin and toward Christ so that they might grow in holiness and righteousness and become more like him.  And this includes you - you will likewise be called to turn from the sin in which you are living and turn to Christ, because we do not believe that the Bible condones your lifestyle.  We believe that it is sinful, and that you need to turn from it and turn to Christ.  So, yes!  You are welcome to come to Riverview and hear that message."

The church is called to be a beacon of light and hope to an unbelieving world drowning in sin.  And it is a place where sinners in search of redemption can come and find the healing that the gospel provides.  For this reason, those who are lost in sin are welcome to come to our church to hear the glorious, life-giving message of the gospel.  Indeed, all are welcome!  In the end, however, none of the three groups of people I spoke to decided to come to Riverview as a regular attender.

But as we affirm that all sinners are welcome at our church to hear the message of the gospel, in the next breath we must also affirm that those who would seek to lead us away from the truth of God's word are most definitely not welcome at our church.  For instance, those who are living sinful lifestyles are welcome to come to our church, but they are not welcome to promote or propagate their sinful lifestyle or thinking among those in our congregation.  Nor can they promote or teach any thinking or doctrine that would lead our people away from the truth of God's word.  There is a difference between sinners seeking redemption and wolves in sheep's clothing, sneaking into the fold to devour the sheep.  We welcome lost sheep with open arms, but to allow wolves into the fold would be foolish and negligent.

This was John's instruction to the church which he was writing in 2 John.  They were a struggling church, in which there were many false teachers who were in the church and drawing people away from the truth.  John's instruction to that church was to have nothing to do with those who would lead the sheep astray.  2 John 1.10-11 says: "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works."

The house that John describes in these verses is most likely not anyone's actual house, but probably refers to the "house" of God, or the church.  So when John instructs them not to take any false teachers into their "house" he probably means not to let them into the church.  Furthermore, John instructs them to not give a false teacher any greeting.  The reason for these restrictions is a matter of appearances.  John doesn't want the true believers of this church to give the impression that they condone or approve of the false teachings or teachers that were threatening the church in his day.  To give such an impression could cause genuine believers to become confused, to doubt what they had been taught, or for some to even fall away from sound teaching.  In other words, to give quarter and welcome to false teachers is to give the impression of approval of or agreement with, or at the very least, indifference to false teachings and teachers.  The results of this impression are disastrous, no matter how you slice it.  In fact, this is why John says that to give the impression that false teachers and teachings are approved is to "take part in his wicked works."

John wants clear, distinct lines to be drawn between the true and the false - both in matters of doctrine and in true believers and false believers.  If the lines in either case are blurred, it creates questions and doubts among many in the church, and can cause them to fall away.  For this reason, there needs to be a clear delineation between true doctrine and false doctrine, and true believers and false believers.  And those who are found to be false must not be given a platform for their teachings, nor should they be made to be seen as being a part of the church, as such appearances can have serious consequences.

As a shepherd, one of my highest priorities is the health and well-being of the sheep, and I take my job seriously.  These principles have guided my interactions with unbelievers who have desired to be regular attenders at Riverview.  By all means, we want all who will, to come and hear the glorious gospel.  But we must guard the purity of the church, and we will not sacrifice or endanger the Christian walk and growth of those who are in Christ in any way.  We will give no greeting to those who would seek to lead others astray, and they are not welcome in this house.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Sustainability of Transgender Theory

Many corners of the internet have been abuzz recently after President Obama put forth his "decree" (I'm not sure if that is the proper term, or if it is only being used by some in a pejorative sense, but nevertheless, it seems somewhat appropriate) stating that public schools should allow students who identify as transgender to use the restroom or locker of their choice.  This is yet another cultural shift that we have endured and, even if it is not to last (there are many who believe that this decree is akin to the LGBT movement jumping the shark), this decree is at least a foot in the door for more flawed thinking about gender and sexuality in our culture, which has become perhaps the slipperiest of slippery slopes our culture has ever trod.

There are significant theological implications to this decree, and I've touched on some of them here and there on this site, and many, many others have capably done so as well.  Let me point you to Russell Moore's article, and my associate, Levi Secord's article as good examples of how to think through this issue biblically.

Don't get me wrong: it's incredibly important to address this issue biblically.  But what is just as fascinating to me - and almost as important - is looking at the practicality and sustainability of transgender theory in society.  In Russell Moore's article, linked above, he makes the point that societies can't operate under the assumptions that transgender theory makes - it's just not sustainable.  And the lack of sustainability of transgender theory is not a matter of opinion but of practical observation and basic logic.  I think it's a fair and necessary task for all parties to step back and make an honest appraisal of the logic used to justify advancements made in the LGBT movement to determine if they are culturally sustainable.  And, in my opinion, an honest judgment of the arguments made should lead us to realize that these matters are not sustainable in our society, or in any society, for that matter.

Transgender theory essentially states that a person's feelings override or trump biological reality.  Within the scope of transgender theory, this means that a person's feelings of gender override biological gender, and so biological men who feel like women become women, and vice versa.  But this theory is severely and fatally flawed: our feelings never override biological or scientific fact - even feelings that are strongly and sincerely held.  It doesn't matter how sincerely I believe that I can fly like a bird - if I jump off a ten-story building, I will die.  My feelings do not override scientific reality.  But since the scope of transgender theory is limited to biology, I'll limit my arguments to the reality of that field of science.  If transgender theory is accurate, and feelings do override biological reality, then other scenarios must also be true.  For instance:

According to transgender theory, it must be possible for a person to feel a different race or ethnicity than their biological race or ethnicity, and therefore identify as that race or ethnicity.

According to transgender theory, it must be possible for a person to feel a different age than their biological age, and identify as that different age.  (For instance, using the logic of transgender theory, why can't a 17 year old boy identify as a 21 year old adult and buy a case of beer?)

According to transgender theory, it must be possible for a person to feel a different species than their biological species, and identify as that particular species.

I could go on, but I'll leave it there.  In order for transgender theory to be sustainable, it needs to explain why feelings trump biological reality in regards to gender, but not to race, age, or species.  But transgender theory is capable of no such thing, and is therefore an unsustainable cultural construct in our society.  It simply can't be sustained.

For instance, transgender theory seeks to alleviate the plight of transgendered persons of being forced to use a restroom that accords with their biological sex rather than their gender identification by forcing schools to allow such persons to use the bathroom that most closely aligns with their own gender self-identification.  By forcing transgendered persons to use the bathroom that aligns with their biological sex, transgender theory asserts, transgendered person are discriminated against.  So the desire of transgender theory is to alleviate this perceived discrimination by "guiding" public schools to accommodate transgendered persons in using whichever bathroom or locker room they prefer.  The incredible irony created by this situation, however, is that in attempting to alleviate perceived discrimination against transgendered persons, transgender advocates are enacting real and demonstrable discrimination against the more than 99% of the population that is not transgendered.  Consider, for example, the vast, overwhelming majority of children in schools who have no desire to use the restroom or shower with people of the opposite sex - regardless of their self-identification.  Transgender theorists have no regard for the feelings of those who will be imposed upon (biological boys and girls who naturally identify as boys and girls), and will force them to accommodate transgendered persons at the cost of their own privacy and dignity.  In other words, in an alleged attempt to provide privacy and dignity for transgendered persons, transgender advocates steal the same from literally everyone else.  This is yet another reason that transgender theory is simply not sustainable.

Moreover, the speed at which these changes are taking place is breathtaking - literally.  In a matter of weeks and months our culture is being commanded to utterly reverse a cultural norm that has existed in our country and culture since its inception (in a grander sense, a world-wide cultural norm of segregation of the sexes when it comes to public restroom accommodations has existed for centuries, if not millennia).  Those who are advocating for these sweeping changes based on transgender theory simply cannot be shocked that there is pushback.  Even if transgender theory weren't fatally flawed (which it is), to demand that 300 million people change their centuries-engrained cultural practice on a dime is incomprehensibly shortsighted and ignorant.

To be sure, there are a myriad of other problems with transgender theory - I've only identified a few.  Here's to hoping for more intellectually honest and logically consistent thinking in our society in the coming days, because it's certainly not happening at present.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Martin Has Been Kidnapped

About a month ago, on a Sunday morning, a member of our worship team at Riverview showed up at the church around 8:00 AM for rehearsal.  In the parking lot of the church, laying uncased and unprotected in the parking lot, was a worn down, beat up guitar.  The worship team member collected the guitar and brought it in the church for further examination.  It was in rough shape.  The back of the guitar was separated from the ribbing in places, and someone had put two large pieces of plastic in place where the saddle and the nut should be (the saddle and nut elevate the strings off the fretboard to make the guitar playable).  Put simply, this guitar had seen much better days.  We all marveled at the DIY repairs that had been done, and then one of the team members put it in his car to use it for spare parts.

Cut to nine days later - the following Monday.  A member of our church showed up in the late afternoon to do some painting in one of the rooms at the church that needed to be done.  As he arrived at the church, he noticed a man sitting on the steps in front of the church.  When he asked if there was anything the man needed help with, he replied that he needed entry into the church in order to get his guitar.  Not knowing the man or the validity of his story, the Riverview member denied him access and went about his business of painting.

The following day, Tuesday, the same Riverview member arrived back at the church to complete the painting job that he had started on Monday.  When he arrived in the parking lot, he noticed the same man he had seen the day before, walking through a wooded area across the street from the church with a guitar case in hand.  Thinking nothing of it, he went back to his task of painting.

The day after that, Wednesday, I went to prepare for leading our Family Night Worship Service at Riverview.  In doing so, I set up a lectern, put out the bulletins for the service, and get my guitar ready to lead the singing.  As I went to retrieve my guitar from the back room, I couldn't find it.  This, however, did not alarm me, as it is not uncommon for my guitar to be moved to a different room or to be used by someone else without my knowledge.  Also, a crew of guys from the church had been working in the room where my guitar was stored, tearing out and replacing carpeting, so it seemed natural that one of them had moved it in the process.  Again, without much alarm, I retrieved a backup guitar that I store on the premises and used it during the service.

Once the service had concluded I began to ask around to see if anyone might know where my missing guitar had ended up, but nobody had any idea where it might be.  The guys who had been working in the room denied that they had moved the guitar in the course of their work, and even denied seeing it in the back room.  After some more asking around, I learned about the man who had been to the church on Monday and Tuesday of that week, and how he had been spotted carrying a guitar case early Tuesday evening through the woods across the street, and the pieces began to fall into place.

About a week later, due to some technical difficulties, I was finally able to access the security camera footage at Riverview.  We have security cameras placed at each of the entrances to the church, and in some of the hallways.  What I saw on the video was the man pictured at left.  On Tuesday, April 26, he and a female accomplice entered the building during business hours (so the church was unlocked). They spent about 20 minutes exploring the church, walking down the hallways, perusing the food shelf and library, and ultimately winding their way back to the music room where my guitar was stored.  After taking the guitar, he departed on foot and went directly to the wooded area across the street where he was observed by the volunteer painter described earlier.

After seeing this all unfold on our security camera footage, and considering the crystal clear images we had of his face, I contacted the West St. Paul police and filed a report.  I was happy to see that one of the reporting officers was one that I had met previously through my involvement in the police chaplaincy program.  The officers were very pleased that we had visual evidence of the crime, and they assured me that they would hand the case over to their investigators.  So far, I'm not sure how much progress has been made on apprehending the thief or retrieving my property, but I remain optimistic.

But it doesn't end there.

On Tuesday afternoon of this week I began to feel ill.  Stomach cramps on Tuesday made way to diarrhea on Wednesday, which knocked me out of leading the Family Night Worship Service this week (which I am bummed about, considering it was our last service of the year).  About 7:00 that evening I received a call from someone who was at the church and who had seen the above photo of the burglar.  He told me that the burglar had returned to the scene of the crime and was at the church at that very moment.  I quickly slipped out of my bathrobe (remember, I was sick) and into some clothes and went over to the church.  By the time I had arrived, I was told that the man left on foot.  I went out into the parking lot and saw someone duck into the same woods across the street that the man had been reported in previously.  I called the police and told them about the incident.

But the interesting thing is how the man interacted with others when he returned to the church last Wednesday evening.  As he came into the building, he immediately began to shake hands of all he came into contact with, and introduced himself to each one as Jesus Christ.  That's right: he claimed to be God in the flesh.  Clearly this man is not in his right mind, which makes this even more sad.

The guitar that was stolen was a Martin (I can't remember the model number).  I bought it second-hand from a friend, who was offloading his gear to help cover the costs of one of his kids' weddings (the sacrifices we guitarists make!).  The guitar is unique in that the body is made of an entirely composite material.  In other words, it's not made of wood.  The only wood on the whole guitar is the neck and fretboard.  The rest is essentially plastic.  Regardless of this fact, the guitar plays like a dream.  In fact, it was easily my best playing guitar.  I have another Martin (DCX1E) that is my best sounding guitar, but it doesn't match the playability of the one that was stolen.  To be sure, Martin guitars are very nice, and most players aspire to own one.  I owned two, and I still have one.  I am a very blessed, fortunate person - even in light of having been robbed.

If possible, I hope I can get my guitar back, as it was my "go-to" guitar - the one that I played in most circumstances as it was accessible, easy to play, and pretty much the right instrument for any occasion.  I have no desire to press charges or see the man who stole it prosecuted for the offense - I'd just like my guitar back!  I even have the one that he left in the parking lot - the old beat up junker.  I'd be happy to make the trade.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Sin that Leads to Death?

1 John 5 contains two difficult portions of scripture that are not easily interpreted.  The first of these portions I addressed in my last post.  This week, I hope to try to explain what John means when he refers to "sin that leads to death."  1 John 5.16-17 says: "If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life - to those who commit sins that do not lead to death.  There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.  All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death."  The question that arises from these verses is, "What in the world is a sin that leads to death?"  As with other difficult passage from 1 John 5 (verses 6-8), John's readers no doubt knew exactly what he was talking about.  But because we are separated from John and his readers by 2000 years or so, the meaning is less apparent to us, so we need to work a little harder to know what he's talking about.  There are a few different ways of interpreting 1 John 5.16-17, and they are as follows:

1. These verses have been interpreted by the Roman Catholic church as describing what are called "mortal sins."  Roman Catholics believe that mortal sins are those that are committed intentionally, and with full knowledge.  Additionally, mortal sins are said to be of a more heinous and serious nature than venial sins (sins of a less serious nature).  Roman Catholic theology teaches that mortal sins cut off the transgressor from God's saving grace and the result will be the condemnation of a person to hell unless a special act of reconciliation and repentance is granted to the one who has committed the mortal sin.  For this reason, Catholics believe that John instructs us not to pray for those who have committed mortal sins, because they have been cut off from God's grace.

Protestants reject this interpretation, however, and insist that all sin is "mortal" in that any sin is enough to condemn a person to hell.  Indeed, James says that breaking the law at just one point is akin to breaking all of the laws (James 2.10).  And just one so-called "white lie" is enough to condemn a person to hell forever (Revelation 21.8).  Additionally, we do not believe that a person can be "cut off" from the grace of God, for "I am sure of this: that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1.6).  For these reasons, the Roman Catholic interpretation of 1 John 5.16-17 as referring to "mortal sins" is flawed.

2. Although we reject the Roman Catholic idea of mortal sins, there are indeed some sins that we see in the Bible whose consequences are immediate, and often times end in physical death.  Generally speaking, all sin is damaging to our physical bodies in ways that we are more or less aware of.  But other sins seem to have more immediate and deadly consequences.  For example, when Aaron's sons offered "unauthorized fire" before the Lord, they were killed for their sin instantly (Leviticus 10.1-2).  Similarly, Ananias and Sapphira "lied to the Holy Spirit" and were killed immediately when their sin was exposed (Acts 5.1-11).  Finally, Paul warns the Corinthians that observing communion in an unworthy manner is a sin that leads to physical illness and even death (1 Corinthians 11.27-30).

Could it be that when John talks about "sin that leads to death" he has these instances in mind?  Possibly, but probably not.  Based on the language John uses here, it seems unlikely that John is referring to specific sins such as those committed by Ananias and Sapphira, or believers who unworthily took communion.  Plus, if there are sins whose immediate consequence is physical death, we are not aware of a comprehensive list in the Bible (which, practically speaking, would be nice to have if such sins existed!)

3. A third possible interpretation of this idea is possible, and it is the one to which I subscribe.  In this interpretation, "sin that does not lead to death" refers to those sins committed by Christians.  Their sin does not lead to death because their sins have been covered by the blood of Christ.  All of their sins - past, present, and future - have been paid and atoned for.  Their sins will not lead them to (spiritual) death.  Sin that does lead to death would then refer to those sins committed by unbelievers, whose sins have not been atoned for.  The sin of unbelievers will lead to their physical and spiritual death because it has not been atoned for through Christ.

This interpretation, I would argue, makes the best sense of John's instructions of how to pray for those who have committed sins that do not lead to death: pray that they might have life.  In other words, pray that God would give them victory over the besetting sins that still plague their mortal bodies.  It also makes sense that John would instruct us to not pray for the forgiveness of sins for those outside of Christ, because their sin can only be forgiven in and through  Christ.  To pray that they would be forgiven outside of Christ would be, to me at least, akin to blasphemy.  Thus, John's instructions of how to pray for people who are sinning make the best sense when the sins he's talking about are differentiated between believers and unbelievers.

Furthermore, this latter interpretation makes the most sense with the general message of the book of 1 John.  Throughout this letter, John has been giving instructions about how to differentiate between true believers and false believers.  This notion that believers are granted forgiveness through Christ but unbelievers are not, certainly jibes well with the overarching message of the letter.  Furthermore, if Christians are found to be in sin, they will naturally want to repent of it and gain victory over it.  Those who are not believers, however, won't really care about the effects of their sins.  Thus, the type of prayer offered for those who are found to be in sin will serve to further differentiate between the true and the false.

If this interpretation is correct, then far from being a discouraging notion about having to worry about committing "mortal sins" or worrying about sins whose ultimate and immediate consequence is physical death, these verses describe the wonderful, life-giving truth of the gospel: Jesus Christ died to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  And I still struggle with sin.  But there is life to be had in the midst of my sin, given to me from God.  Praise God that his mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3.22-23), and that, though prayer, he will give us help in our time of need (Hebrews 4.16).

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Spirit, the Water, and the Blood

One of the challenges of going through the Bible verse by verse is that one frequently stumbles upon passages that are difficult to interpret.  Sometimes we come across verses that don't make sense to us culturally, seem unrealistic or too demanding, or are even downright offensive.  While this is definitely a challenge, it is also a benefit of verse by verse Bible study, as it forces us to wrestle with what the text actually means, do some research, and use the intellect that God has given us.  We came across one such passage this past Sunday during our service: 1 John 5.6-8:
This is he who came by water and blood - Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.  And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.  For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.  
This passage is difficult to interpret because we're not totally sure what is being referred to by the references to the Spirit, the water, and the blood.  Interestingly, we can assume that John's original readers knew exactly what he was talking about, because John takes not time to explain it to them.  He knew that they knew what he was referring to, so he didn't comment on it further.  But alas, we are separated from John and his readers by approximately 21 centuries, so the meaning is a bit more obscure to us.  Also, John says that these three witnesses are testifying to something - to what?  And how?  There are two main ways of thinking about how to interpret this passage.  I'll cover each of them, and tell you which interpretation I prefer.

1. The first interpretation states that the Spirit, water, and blood refer to the ongoing testimony evident in the regular Christian life.  As a Christian walks with God, there are witnesses that testify to his or her standing as being a child of God.  These witnesses are: 1) The Spirit.  The Holy Spirit indwells those who are trusting in Christ and empowers them to be able to increasingly throw off the weight of sin and become more and more like Jesus.  Moreover, the Spirit provides believers with an "inner-witness" to those who are in Christ that they belong to God.  2) The Water.  This interpretation would assert that the witness of the water refers to the declaration of faith made in believer's baptism.  When a believer undergoes baptism, he or she is making a public declaration of faith in Christ and intent to follow him all of his or her days.  Thus, a believer can look upon his or her baptism as a witness that testifies to his or her standing in Christ.  3) The Blood.  Those who adhere to this interpretation regard the witness of the blood as the regular process of observing communion with the gathered church.  By taking communion, believers celebrate what Christ has done on their behalf, and participate in the process of working out their salvation with fear and trembling.

Thus, this interpretation finds these witnesses to be a regular part of the Christian life - "the proof is in the pudding," so to speak, as believers testify to their standing as children of God through simply living life and living out their faith in Christ. Through these witnesses, believers can have the assurance they need to overcome the world by faith (1 John 5.4-5).

2. A second interpretation asserts that the three witnesses of the Spirit, water, and blood refer to historical realities rather than to experiential instances.  They are as follows: 1) The Spirit: the witness of the Spirit refers to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus.  The Spirit's work through Christ testifies of his divine Sonship.  Thus, we are able to know that Jesus is the Christ because of the evidence of his works in the Spirit.  2) The Water.  This interpretation asserts that the water refers to the testimony of Jesus being the Son of God that was given at his baptism.  When Jesus was baptized the heavens opened up, the Spirit came down on him in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven declared: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3.17).  3) The Blood.  The testimony of the blood is observed through Jesus' sacrificial death, showing how his divine blood covered the sins of all who would believe for all eternity.  The ability of Jesus' blood to atone for sins proves his divinity.  This is no mere man, but the Son of God, because only the blood of the Son of God could atone for sin.

And so, this second interpretation seeks to give assurance to Christians that their faith will overcome the world because of the historical reality of of who and what Jesus is, and what he did in his earthly life.  These witnesses provide believers with a solid foundation upon which they can build their world-overcoming faith.

Of these two interpretations, I find the latter to be more likely.  Although there are several reasons why the second interpretation might be more preferable, the main reason I prefer the second interpretation is contextual.  In other words, it seems to work better with the surrounding texts and the overall message of the book of 1 John.  One of John's purposes in 1 John 5 is to assure his readers of their ability to persevere throughout all of the difficult situations in which they find themselves: persecution, false teaching, cultural pressure from an unbelieving world, etc.  In order for them to persevere through these difficulties, John tells them that their faith is what will give them the victory.  But faith in what?  In the historical reality of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  John's readers certainly wanted to overcome the world by faith, but perhaps they were unsure how, or if the one in whom they were believing was true.  "Yes, he is true," John seems to be saying, "And I'll give you three pieces of evidence."

John identifies faith in Jesus as the Son of God as being the key ingredient for a persevering, overcoming faith.  And to bolster their faith, John provides them with three historical witnesses of Jesus' divinity: his anointing with the Holy Spirit (in other words, his miraculous works), his baptism, and his death.  Rather than refer his readers to subjective, experiential witnesses like their own baptism and the taking of communion (as discussed in the first interpretation) which are subjective and almost impossible to judge, John gives them an objective rock upon which to anchor their faith: historical reality.  By doing so, John effectively tells his readers that they can be absolutely certain that Jesus was the Son of God.  And if they can be certain of that, then they should believe it.  And if they will believe it with certainty, this faith will give them victory over the difficulties faced in life as a product of living in a fallen world.

While faith in a person or thing is never conclusive, it is simultaneously based on evidence.  John is saying that the evidence presented by the witnesses of the Spirit, the water, and the blood that Jesus is the Son of God is overwhelming, and is worthy of being believed.  Like John's original readers, we can be certain of the witness of the Spirit, the water, and the blood.  The evidence point to the authenticity of the object of our faith (Jesus, the Son of God) is overwhelming.  Moreover, we have the guarantee of God himself about who Jesus is and what he has done (see 1 John 5.9)  And therefore, our faith in him is not in vain.  Rather, it is empowering us to the extent that it will carry us through the challenges presented to us in life until the day of our death.  Through faith in Christ we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For we are sure that neither death nor life, nor angles nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of god in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.37-39).