Posts Tagged '1 John'

Your Amazing Faith, Part 7

Jackie DeShannon sang a lot about love. She made the song, "What the World Needs Now" famous. She was right. The world "needs love, sweet love," but not just any love. The world needs the love of God.

Jackie DeShannon sang a lot about love. She made the song, “What the World Needs Now” famous. She was right. The world “needs love, sweet love,” but not just any love. The world needs the love of God.

Your amazing faith is what makes you an amazing person. That’s not a cliché, it’s a fact that is accomplished by the transforming work of God through the in dwelling of His Holy Spirit. That’s where your amazing faith came from in the first place: God. It was His gift to you when you heard the Word and responded in faith to it:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 | NIV84)

And your amazing faith, as amazing as it is, isn’t in itself, it isn’t in your abilities, or your dreams and hopes. Your faith isn’t your church or some talented individual. The object of your faith is God Himself, and His abilities and His Word, as Paul showed us during a raging storm at sea:

So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. (Acts 27:25 | NIV84)

Not only did Paul discover the object of faith, but he also showed us the secret of faith – or more specifically, Paul showed us the secret to living righteously is in our amazing faith in Jesus Christ:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 | NIV84)

You and I work so hard to avoid trials and trouble and if we happen to fall into trouble on account of our faith, those kinds of trials are what God uses to stretch and toughen up our amazing faith:

These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7 | NIV84)

Paul found out that living a righteous life was possible by having faith in Jesus Christ and living as He did, and He went on to show us how the Holy Spirit makes that possible:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a | NIV84)

That’s the power of faith – the fruit of the Spirit. And the prayer of faith is something James taught us about when he talked about praying for a sick person. There is power in prayer just as there is power in faith and the prayer of faith really boils down to exalting the amazing will of God:

And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. (James 5:15 | NIV84)

We come now to the last aspect of your amazing faith, and it’s found in the most pastoral letter in the New Testament:

This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (1 John 5:4c | NIV84)

John and his letter

In all, John wrote five pieces of literature that have been preserved for us in the New Testament; three letters, a book of prophecy, and one gospel. His first letter is unlike any other New Testament letter. Some scholars refer to it as an essay or a tract, and others refer to it as a sermon. It’s hard to categorize it, but it’s easy to see what John was trying to do. He wrote like a pastor, covering all manner of issues so as to build up and encourage his people in their faith. He writes with care, compassion, and passion.

The thing about John’s letters, and in particular his first one, is that they are chock full of theology. A lot of Christians hate that word almost as much as they hate the word “doctrine,” yet no believer can live without either. The “apostle of love,” as John is often referred to, covers such profound doctrines as sin and salvation, atonement and holy living. But unlike, say Paul in his letter to the Romans, John writes about various doctrines not in an academic, systematic philosophical manner, but he shows how these doctrines form the very foundation of our fellowship with God and how believing the right theology leads to a life of love.

John lived a very long life for a man of his day. He traveled with Jesus and wrote his letter sometime around the end of the first century, around 95 AD.

Faith is the victory

1 John 5:1 says a lot more than appears on the surface:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. (1 John 5:1 | NIV84)

The word “believes” a Greek verb, pisteuon, and it’s a strong verb. Merely understanding the Gospel and confessing the truth of salvation does not make anybody a partaker of the life of God in Jesus Christ. It’s one thing to outwardly confess faith in Jesus Christ, as John had previously covered back in 4:2, 15. But what is outward must be inward first. Remember what Paul wrote:

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:10 | NIV84)

But when you couple the truth of verse 1 with what John says in verse 2, you get the notion that Christianity is absolutely exclusive:

This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. (1 John 5:2 | NIV84)

Only Christians – only those who have experienced a conversion of the heart leading to a confession of the mouth, leading in turn to a wholehearted love and devotion to God and His Word – are children of God. In spite of what you may have heard to the contrary, not everybody is a “child of God.” In John’s Gospel, there is this interesting exchange between Jesus and some Jews.

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.” (John 8:42-44a | NIV84)

Wow! That’s Jesus talking, telling unbelievers that God is not their father, the devil is. A statement like that is like a deep line in the sand. If a person wants to be a child of God, then he must sign onto the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christianity is exclusive to Christians. Being a child of God is exclusive to Christians. And loving the children of God is part of loving God. You can’t claim to love God yet live out of fellowship with the body of Christ. The two go hand-in-hand. That’s why being in church is so important. It’s not that going to church saves you, it’s that being in regular fellowship with the local body of Christ is one way of showing your love and support for the children of God, and God Himself.

But again, actions without an inner commitment constitute nothing.

This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome… (1 John 5:3 | NIV84)

Just to exclaim, “I love God” while you are in church amounts to exactly nothing. Anybody can say anything. John made that pretty clear a chapter back:

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20 | NIV84)

But now he adds the bit about non-negotiable obedience to God’s commands. In John’s thinking, that’s simply doing what God wants you to do; it’s living the way He wants you to. And that’s not hard to do, by the way. The world thinks it is. As far as the world is concerned, only one person a 10,000 is a “Saint.” But in the Kingdom, we all are. And if you forget what those “commands” are, John’s already told us:

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. (1 John 3:23-24 | NIV84)

Love was a big deal to John, and it should be to you, too, if you consider yourself a Christian. We should be deliberately looking for ways to encourage fellow believers all the time. A phone call, an email, a text message, or a smile and good word can go so far in making the day a little for another Christian. Too often though, we find it easier to tear down a fellow believer, especially if we don’t like them in the first place. When we gossip or speak about another Christian using derogatory terms, then we aren’t being obedient to God. During the Second World War, there was a saying, “Loose lips sink ships.” Well, in our war against the forces of evil today, “loose lips sink lives” all the time. Your grandmother was right: If you don’t have something good to say about someone, don’t say anything.

And that gets us to the verse that got us into this whole thing:

…for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (1 John 5:4 | NIV84)

Verse 4 is really just a continuation of verse 3, so let’s ignore the verse break and put the sentence together, the way John intended:

And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.

God’s commands are not too much for the believer, because the believer has been born of God and he, by virtue of his new birth, overcomes the world. What that means is simple. To John, “the world” is opposed to God and God’s people and that opposition is manifested in the form of disobedience. So when you, as a believer, are tempted to disobey the Word of God and live in a way that shames God and the body of Christ and hurts other believers, you are doing what “the world” wants you to do, not what God wants you to do.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17 | NIV84)

The things of the world look so good and promise so much, but according to John, you never have to side with the world over Christ. It is entirely possible to live in constant obedience to the Will and Word of God because you have overcome the world; you are stronger than “the world.” By virtue of your faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, you have already overcome this sinful world in the spiritual sense. In the practical, day-to-day sense, that same faith, which was given to you by God, empowers you to live in such a way as to glorify God and shun the world.

To overcome the world begins with being victorious over all the things in your life that have ever tempted you or will ever tempt you to go back to the ways of the world. Things like your attitude, your dreams, your desires, your ambition, your emotions, and so on. Your amazing faith gives you the strength to overcome those those inborn stumbling blocks so that you are equipped to overcome the world.

Your amazing faith, that incredible, indispensable gift from God, not only saved you and set you free from sin; it not only enables you live like Jesus lived and love like Jesus loved, it gives you what you need to live in complete victory over the evil in this world. It empowers you to live in obedience to God and to love other believers. Your amazing faith is such an integral part of your life, you can’t live without it.

Knowing God

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How does a person get to know God?  There are those who think God is unknowable; that we create God in our image and give Him our characteristics.  But God is not a subjective fantasy.  He is an objective reality who may be known personally.  John, writing to his friend, Gaius, explains how this is possible.

If you want to know God, you must obey His commandments, 1 John 2:3—14 

If you are intent on getting to know God, the first thing you’ll have to do is know what He expects of you.  However, God is not to be confused with a Cosmic Cop, whom you blindly obey.  God’s commands are different because they are designed for your benefit, not your punishment.  Living in obedience to God’s Word guarantees the best life possible for you and as you get to know what His commands are (and what they are all about), you will be getting to God. 

Living as Christ did, verses 3—6 

And how can we be sure that we belong to him? By looking within ourselves: are we really trying to do what he wants us to?  Someone may say, “I am a Christian; I am on my way to heaven; I belong to Christ.” But if he doesn’t do what Christ tells him to, he is a liar.  But those who do what Christ tells them to will learn to love God more and more. That is the way to know whether or not you are a Christian.  Anyone who says he is a Christian should live as Christ did.

How we humans acquire knowledge isn’t as simple as you may think.  As far as the Greeks were concerned, knowledge came through rational, reasoning contemplation.  The more you sit around thinking, the more knowledge flows into your head.  But to the Gnostics, knowledge was gained in a mystical, magical fashion.  Think:  Timothy Leary and his “turn on, tune in, and drop out” philosophy.  But to John, a great thinker in his own right without the aid of LSD, concluded that ultimate knowledge is the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ gained through salvation.  How does this happen?  When we are saved, we read God’s Word and learn about the right way to live.  The more we take on Christ’s characteristics, the more like Him we become, the more we get to know God.  David Smith observed:

To know about Christ, to understand the doctrine of His person and work is mere theory; we get to know Him and to know that we know Him by practice of His precepts.

“Practice of His precepts” is the ten dollar way of saying:  do what He tells you to do.  Of course, there is always the danger that our faith might become a matter of doing only or of learning only.  That’s an unacceptable imbalance addressed by Paul Moon:

Emotionalized religion without discipline becomes sentimental, and intellectual religion becomes sterile.  Moral discipline is the path to Christian character.

Noting a new commandment, verses 7—11 

Anyone who says he is walking in the light of Christ but dislikes his fellow man is still in darkness.  (1 John 2:9  TLB)

To some of John’s readers, some of his ideas must have sounded revolutionary.  He needed to assure them that, unlike false teachers, he was not running around peddling new-fangled ideas.  His teachings were as old as, well, the Old Testament!

This ancient idea of “loving one another” really is the acid test of one’s Christian faith.  We can talk all day long about the love we have for people, but if we are never getting involved with them, how can we say we love them?  Indeed, how can we say we love God?   There must be consistency between your confession and your conduct.  In other words, if you claim to be a Christian, you had better live like one.  And nobody can do better than he knows.  How does a Christian live?  He reads the Word of God to learn, and then he lives what he has learned.

These are strong words for the so-called “apostle of love.”  A believer cannot walk in the light if he harbors hate in his heart.  It just can’t be done.

Your strong love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples.  (John 13:35  TLB)

Now, it should be noted that both John and Jesus are referring to the love between believers.  This does not mean Christians are off the hook in terms of caring about the non-believers all around them.  A consistent teaching throughout the New Testament is the absolute, non-negotiable necessity of “loving your neighbor.”  However, that must begin with loving fellow members of the Body of Christ.

Love God, not the world, 1 John 2:15—19 

The admonition in verse 15 to “stop loving this evil world” seems to be odds with the whole notion of living as Christ did.  What do we do with the famous John 3:16—

For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  (TLB)

This apparent contradiction vanishes when we read 1 John 2:15 in context.  Christians are to aspire to a higher standard of living, and this can only be accomplished if we end our pursuit of the dark things of this world.  This certainly can’t include sinners!  God loved sinners so much, He sent His Son to save them!  If God loved them, we must also.  No, what John is referring to are set forth verse 16—

…all these worldly things, these evil desires—the craze for sex, the ambition to buy everything that appeals to you, and the pride that comes from wealth and importance—these are not from God. They are from this evil world itself.  (TLB)

Anybody who claims to have never struggled with the things John listed in verse 17 must be dead.  There isn’t a Christian who has ever lived that didn’t wrestle with temptation, sometimes night and day.  And sometimes, like the runner who stumbles and falls because every muscle in legs aches, we stumble and fall.   C.S. Lewis comments—

God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome.  What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them.

Just so.  The fallen runner gets back up, and so must the fallen saint.

John paints a rather bleak and pathetic picture of the world:

And this world is fading away, and these evil, forbidden things will go with it, but whoever keeps doing the will of God will live forever.  (1 John 2:17  TLB)

Here are two great reasons (as if you needed more!) to not love the things of this world.  First, they are terribly impermanent.  The wealth, the fame, the beauty, the power, all the things men chase after their whole lives are transient.  They, even now, are fading away whether you see it or realize it or not.  The state of the world reminds us these famous words:

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. 

And second, it’s terribly shortsighted and foolish to expend time, energy, and resources in obtaining temporary things when it makes more sense to pursue the will of God, for it is eternal.

The dreaded antichrist(s), verses 18, 19 

So, it seems like a no-brainer so far.  We can easily pass the tests of the faith.  Right?  Not so!  John warns his readers that there are evil forces arrayed against the Christian with the sole purpose of thwarting his walk of faith.

These “against-Christ” people used to be members of our churches, but they never really belonged with us or else they would have stayed. When they left us it proved that they were not of us at all.  (verse 19  TLB) 

Charles Stanley’s comments on the very people John wrote about are to-the-point:

The best way in the world to deceive believers is to cloak a message in religious language and declare that it conveys some new insight from God.

Isn’t that the truth?  Christians are not necessarily gullible; it’s just that we want to believe the best about people, and when somebody comes to us claiming to be a believer but has new ideas, we may be tempted to think God has given this special person some new insight.  However, we need to exercise some discernment!  We’re not Gnostics!  We need to heed not only John and Charles Stanley’s warnings, but also this one:

And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.  Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.  (2 Corinthians 11:14  AV) 

Keep on keeping on…in Christ!  1 John 2:20—29 

There are false teachers all around us.  They are on TV in behind our pulpits.  They look good and use the right words.  Thank God we have help to keep us on the straight and narrow!

But you are not like that, for the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you know the truth. So I am not writing to you as to those who need to know the truth, but I warn you as those who can discern the difference between true and false.  (verses 20, 21  TLB)

We as true believers are not empty like these pseudo-Christians, for we are full of God’s Holy Spirit!  And we can discern the difference between true teaching and false.  Notice that John makes that plain!  Discernment isn’t just a possibility, it’s a guarantee.  This same Holy Spirit has been called the “Conservator of orthodoxy.”  That’s a real fancy way of saying that He will only ever teach the Christian the true, unadulterated truth.

Why, then, do so many Christians fall prey to false teachers?  Corrie Ten Boon’s words of wisdom are so apropos:

Trying to do the Lord’s work in our own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious o fall work.  But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.

Amen and amen!  We fail because we “go it alone” when we don’t have to.  The most foolish man in the world is the Christian who thinks he can live right if he just tries hard enough.  That’s utter nonsense!  Of course, we must expend an effort, but we must also let the Holy Spirit empower us and live through us.  That’s not easy for many of us to do, but if we would walk in the light, live as Christ lived, and honor Him, we must.  The great preacher G. Campbell Morgan wrote:

To the individual believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit there is granted the direct impression of the Spirit of God on the spirit of man, imparting the knowledge of His will in matters of the smallest and greatest importance.  This has to be sought and waited for.

Stay in fellowship with Christ, verses 28, 29 

And now, my little children, stay in happy fellowship with the Lord so that when he comes you will be sure that all is well and will not have to be ashamed and shrink back from meeting him.  Since we know that God is always good and does only right, we may rightly assume that all those who do right are his children.  (TLB) 

These verses remind of what Jesus told His disciples in John 15:4, 5

Take care to live in me, and let me live in you. For a branch can’t produce fruit when severed from the vine. Nor can you be fruitful apart from me.  Yes, I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in me and I in him shall produce a large crop of fruit. For apart from me you can’t do a thing.  (TLB)

Abiding in Christ has nothing to do with joining a church or proclaiming one creed or another.  It’s a living relationship with the Living Word.  It’s living as He lived in obedience to His commands.  And as we become proficient at doing that, we will getting to know God.

Living Like Who You Are and What You Believe

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1 John 3:1—18 

In 1976, Francis Schaeffer produced his seminal work, How Should We Then Live.  In it, Schaeffer writes about the decline of Western culture and he analyzes the reasons for the sad state of modern society and he presents the only alternative:  living by the Christian ethic, acceptance of God’s revelation, and total affirmation of the Bible’s morals, values, and meaning.

But long before 1976, John pondered the same kinds of things.  In his first letter, he writes about what Schaeffer would call “the Christian ethic” centuries later.  How should Christians live?  Here’s what John had to say.

Who are God’s Children, 1 John 3:1—6 

  • Children of God 

The last verse of chapter 2 is really the first verse of chapter 3:

Since we know that God is always good and does only right, we may rightly assume that all those who do right are his children.  (1 John 2:29  TLB)

This is a general statement about God’s children:  all who do right are His children.  Now, of course, we know there is much more to it than that, but John is putting forth this general principle to drive home the point that it is one thing to run around telling everybody that you are a Christian, but it is something else entirely to live a life that reveals the righteousness of Christ.  John is giving his readers a kind of simple, easy way to recognize another believer.  A true believer not only talks the right way, he walks the right way, too.  As they say in the south, God’s children take after their Father.

See how very much our heavenly Father loves us, for he allows us to be called his children—think of it—and we really are! But since most people don’t know God, naturally they don’t understand that we are his children.  (1 John 3:1  TLB)

Our position as God’s children is not something we should aspire to; it is something we already are.  For the true believer, there is no “hoping” that we “just might be saved.”  There should be no doubt as to the present and future reality of our salvation.  It is an objective truth, not a subjective one.  There may be days when you don’t “feel” saved, or you might be criticized by other Christians who say you can’t really be saved.  John makes it clear that your salvation is real; it is a matter of Heaven’s record.

True believers are often criticized by the world because the world doesn’t understand us or what motivates us.  We live according a Biblical worldview, not secular worldview.  Our motivation is living according to what God has revealed to us in His Word.  Children of God recognize other children of God, but the world doesn’t.  Augustine once compared the attitude of the world toward God to that of sick man who, in his delirium, lashed out and harmed his doctor.  What God can do for the unbeliever is what’s best for him, but they can’t see it.  Similarly, who wouldn’t want to associate with a Christian who is living a righteous life?  Well, the world doesn’t, because they don’t understand us and they don’t understand our motives at all.

  • Children of hope, verses 2, 3 

Yes, dear friends, we are already God’s children, right now, and we can’t even imagine what it is going to be like later on. But we do know this, that when he comes we will be like him, as a result of seeing him as he really is.  And everyone who really believes this will try to stay pure because Christ is pure.  (TLB)

In our present state, it’s difficult for us to see and understand all that God has done for us.  Even though some of us “weren’t that bad” when He saved us, the change that has occurred in our hearts was so great, our feeble minds cannot fully grasp it.  But, as great as that change was, more must take place.  Future growth or maturing in the faith is now up to us as we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us.

These verses speak of a perspective that, no matter how hard we try, we are unable to attain in this life.  Only after we see Jesus as He is, will we finally see that we have become like Him.

This is the hope all believers ought to possess.  We should all understand the truthfulness of verse 2, and because verse 2 is true, that should be the motivating factor in our efforts to live Christ-like lives.

  • The nature of sin, verses 4—6 

Your relationship with God is defined by whether you practice righteousness or sin.  In chapter 2, John already discussed the possibility that Christians will sin; it’s just a matter of time.  But the important thing to keep in mind is this:

But those who keep on sinning are against God, for every sin is done against the will of God.  (1 John 3:4  TLB)

This is a big difference between yielding to a temptation and sinning and living in constant sin.  A Christian may stumble and fall, but he must get back up again, acknowledge his failing and accept God’s forgiveness then press on.  That’s good.  God has made provision for that.  But there is no hope for one who lives in a continual state or attitude of sin.  John says when we go against God’s will, that’s what we are doing.

The thing is, though, it may become very easy for a believer to slip into a life of sin.  It can happen so slowly as to be almost imperceptible by the hapless believer.   Spurgeon’s comments this are helpful:

We must keep from sin.  If Christ has indeed saved us from sin, we cannot bear the thought of falling into it.  Those who take delight in sin are not the children of God.  If you are a child of God, you hate it with a perfect hatred, and your very soul loathes it.

John has a sobering warning for those who think they are Christians but live in sin:

So if we stay close to him, obedient to him, we won’t be sinning either; but as for those who keep on sinning, they should realize this: They sin because they have never really known him or become his.  (1 John 3:6 TLB)

God’s children are holy, 1 John 3:7—10 

As Christians, the motive for righteous living should be love.  However, righteous actions don’t always happen automatically.

Oh, dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: if you are constantly doing what is good, it is because you are good, even as he is.  (1 John 3:7  TLB)

That’s the foundational proposition, remember.  Whether you feel it or not or whether the world recognizes it or not, you ARE a child of God; you ARE righteous.  But then, he ads this:

The person who has been born into God’s family does not make a practice of sinning because now God’s life is in him; so he can’t keep on sinning, for this new life has been born into him and controls him—he has been born again.  (1 John 3:9  TLB)

We have seen the love God demonstrated in what Christ did for us.  His love dwells in us.  And yet, that doesn’t automatically mean we will live love-filled lives.  There is an almost urgent call in this passage to live up to what has happened to us.  The life of love, to some degree, must be learned and practiced.  Once again, there is a distinction between what Christ has done for us—we are God’s children—and what we must do for ourselves—we can’t keep on sinning.  John is not teaching that Christians “can’t keep on sinning,” as in it is now impossible for us to sin.  He is telling us we “can’t keep on sinning,” we must not sin any more.

God’s children are holy because since we have been declared to be holy, we must put forth an effort to live holy lives.

  • Children of the devil, verses 8 

But if you keep on sinning, it shows that you belong to Satan, who since he first began to sin has kept steadily at it. But the Son of God came to destroy these works of the devil. (TLB)

Now here’s a disturbing verse.  If a person keeps on living in sin and never seems to demonstrate any kind of struggle to get out it, then that alone shows that he is not a child of God but, instead, a child of Satan.   John is not referring to “inadvertent sin.”  He’s referring to a life that is not motivated by love for God but rather one that is motivated by a desire and a readiness to not only listen to what the devil wants of you but actually doing what he wants.

The struggle to discern God’s voice from Satan’s is constant.  Christians need the help of the Holy Spirit in this effort.  Thomas Watson’s comments are encouraging to all who struggle with temptation:

Satan doth not tempt God’s children because they have sin in them, but because they have grace in them.  Had they no grace, the devil would not disturb them.  Though to be tempted is a trouble, to think why you are tempted is a comfort.

God’s children characterized by love, 1 John 3:11—18 

Here is another test of the validity of a person’s claim to be a child of God:

If we love other Christians, it proves that we have been delivered from hell and given eternal life. But a person who doesn’t have love for others is headed for eternal death.  (1 John 3:14  TLB)

Christians ought to have mutual love for each other.  The perfect antithesis of this “brotherly love” is what Cain did to his brother, Abel.  Cain killed Abel, and John includes the incident here because it is a powerful illustration of what happens when love is NOT one’s guiding principle.  One scholar put it this way:

The violent deed was only the last expression of the antipathy which righteousness always calls out in those who make evil the guiding principle of their life.

John concludes this portion of his letter with a plea:

My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.  (1 John 3:18 NKJV) 

John had written some pretty heavy things about love.  How far should we as Christians go in demonstrating it?  Should we give our lives for another, as Christ for us?  Should one Christian help another even he needs help himself?  Should a Christian buy shoes for somebody who needs them when he has no shoes himself?   Those are tough questions, and John knew his teachings were just as tough, which is why he goes back to calling his readers, “my little children.”  John Wesley, in response to these kinds of questions, said:

Give and lend to any so far (but not farther, for God never contradicts Himself) as is consistent with thy engagements to thy creditors, thy family, and the household of faith.

In other words, we can only do what we can do at any moment in time.  There may be a time when it is within our means to give a lot to those in need, whether material resources or emotional.  But then there may be times when we have very little to give.  Real love does as much as it can, when it can, for whomever it can.

Fellowship

BeFunky_Fellowship_1c.jpg

“God is light.”  In the Bible, especially in John’s writing, God is presented as “light.”  Did you ever stop to wonder why “light?”  Why not “sound?”  Why is God described as “light?”  Bible scholars and teachers give all kinds of reasons for this description of God, some are quite good and imaginative, others not so much.  In the end, though, “God is light” suggests that God is interested in making Himself known to the people He created in His image.  If man is in moral and spiritual darkness, then he needs some kind of light to lead him out; that light is God.

God is also described as “love.” This is makes sense.  The devil is evil; therefore God must be the polar opposite.  “God is love” means much more than “God loves me” or “At least He doesn’t hate me.”  No, “God is love” is not so much a description of what God does as who He is.  “Love” is the essential part of His nature and His character.  We breathe in the air around us, and God is love.

But it doesn’t stop there.  God is also known as “life,” as in “God is life.”  Of course, He is!  From God we receive the gift of eternal life through His Son.  How in the world is this possible? Well, the truth is, we are born with eternal life.  For better or for worse, the moment we are born, we shall never die.  The only question is, where will we live out our eternal life?  In a good place or a bad place?  When we say, “God is life,” we are, once again, referring to an essential component of God’s nature.  And, praise God, when we become Christians, here is what happens:

And by that same mighty power he has given us all the other rich and wonderful blessings he promised; for instance, the promise to save us from the lust and rottenness all around us, and to give us his own character.  (2 Peter 1:4  TLB)

Did you notice that last phrase?  God gives us “his own character”!  Or, to put in the KJV, we become “partakers of the divine nature.”  That’s a pretty good deal for sinful man.

But what does all this lofty theology have to do with fellowship among Christians?  The answer is:  Everything!  Let’s find out how.

Fellowship with God and others, 1 John 1:1—6 

The word of life, verses 1—4 

Even if the authorship of 1 John was in doubt, if you compare the first verse of John’s Gospel to the first verse of 1 John, you’ll see they are so similar, the same person must have written both works—

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  (John 1:1 NKJV) 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life…  (1 John 1:1  NKJV)

The fact that Jesus came in the flesh was a controversial thing in John’s day.  That’s why he went to such great length to choose the opening words of his first letter with such care.  He wanted his readers to know beyond any doubt that he and others had seen, touched, and heard this Son of God, Jesus Christ.

…the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us…  (1 John 1:2  NKJV)

Jesus was no myth.  Nor was He an illusion or a ghost.  Jesus Christ was truly the Son of God, clothed in human flesh; for all intents and purposes, the divine Son of God became the Son of Man so as to reveal something of God to man hitherto obscured from man’s ability to see and comprehend.

…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  (1 John 1:3  NKJV) 

This verse says a lot more than you may think.  True believers have fellowship with Jesus Christ and with God the Father.  It was John’s desire that his readers, who were also in fellowship with the Father through Jesus the Son, have fellowship with “we,” that is, himself, John and all the apostles.  This was the whole purpose of this letter.  What John probably has in mind here is fellowship in terms of eternal life.  Stop and think about what that means.  Thanks to what Jesus did, our fellowship with Him will never end and our fellowship with other believers will never end.  This is the very heart of the Easter message!  Jesus didn’t die and merely come back to life; He actually arose from the dead victoriously.  For Christians, this means that the fellowship we enjoy with the Son and with the Father and with each other cannot be broken by either suffering or death.

According to verse 4, this fellowship (with God and other believers) ought to be the basis of our greatest joy.

God is light, verses 5, 6 

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.  (NKJV)

This is a fundamental truth about the nature of God:  God is light.  God wants to reveal something of Himself to us, or at least as much as our finite minds can understand, which isn’t much.  But notice God is all light, with not so much as a smidgen of darkness.  This is very suggestive of a kind purity—a moral purity, a spiritual purity, an emotional purity, and even a mental purity.  Every aspect of God’s character is absolutely pure; there are no shadows in His personality.  God isn’t “up” one day and “down” the next!  He’ll never change His mind about you.  He’ll never have second thoughts about anything, especially concerning His love for you!

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  (1 John 1:6  NKJV) 

Here’s the rub:  we are to be as pure as our Father is.  God has revealed as much of Himself to us as is possible given our limitations for the purpose of imparting His life and light to us.  John makes it clear that it is impossible for any man to have any kind of fellowship with God if that man is still living in the darkness.

The condition for fellowship, 1 John 1:7—2:2 

That great disciple of Christ, Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote:

Christian brotherhood is not an ideal we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.  The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it. 

When a man chooses to walk in darkness, there is no possible way for him to have fellowship with God OR with believers.  This was a familiar line of thinking for John; he wrote about in his Gospel:

For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  (John 3:20  NKJV) 

Little wonder, then, non-Christians don’t want to have much to do with true believers!  Those who don’t know Jesus instinctively know the closer they get to Him, the greater chance their wrongdoing will come to light.  In fact, the same holds true for Christians in a backslidden state.  While they are living in sin they fight tooth-and-nail to stay out of church and away from other Christians.

But the opposite is true for real believers.  True believers in Jesus are not only drawn to Him, but to each other!  John declares this to be self-evident truth:

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.  (1 John 1:7  NKJV)

One truth follows after another:  if we are in Christ, then we will be in fellowship with other believers.

Confessing our sins, verses 8—10 

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.  (NKJV) 

Men are in real trouble, and that trouble goes back to the very beginning.  When Adam sinned and fell from grace, the whole human race fell with him.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…  (Romans 3:20  NKJV)

Living in sin is walking in darkness—it is walking away from God.  He is walking away into oblivion with no hope. No, it’s worse even than that; it is really self-destruction; a willful and stubborn refusal to look into the Light, that is God.  It is also self-deception; a mistaken belief that one is “all right” and “not that bad.”  To think that and to live a life in the darkness is to make God out to be liar.  Can you imagine!  Refusing to confess your sins and repent of them not only seals your doom but it defames God, all at the same time!

Sin is a choice, and in one way, so is salvation.  It is up to sinful man to confess his sins to God; God won’t force him to do that.  And the process of salvation begins with man’s confession of his sin.  John’s view of salvation parallels his idea of sin.  Sin is something all men can control—we make the choice to embrace it or not.  Of course, sin is both the act of evil (sin) and the propensity to sin (unrighteousness).  In John’s thinking, there is complete forgiveness of our sins; our acts of evil.  As for the propensity to sin; the unrighteous state of our hearts, the only answer is cleansing.

Writing about the importance of confession, British evangelist and pastor Alan Redpath offers this insight:

It is Satan’s delight to tell me that once he’s got me, he will keep me.  But at that moment I can go back to God.  And I know that if I confess my sins, God is faithful and just to forgive me.

We can all say “Amen!” to Rev. Redpath!

To “confess our sins,” by the way, means a lot more than just admitting them.  The Greek verb means literally, “to agree with.”  When we come to God to “confess our sins,” we not only own up to them, but we are agreeing with God’s assessment of our guilt.  So, we admit what we did and we admit our guilt.

Our advocate, 2:1, 2 

My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.  (NKJV) 

This letter was written to a man named Gaius, John’s “dear friend.”  John knew others would read this letter, and he calls them, “my little children.”  This is a term of genuine affection that speaks to their relationship—teacher and students.  John was their teacher.  And yet, the term goes beyond this relationship to another one; the fellowship Christians have with each other through Jesus Christ as a result of the new birth.

John took the time to teach his friends that it is possible for all believers avoid sin.  Remember, sin is a choice.  And John’s hope is that he may encourage his readers not to choose to sin.  But, human nature is what it is, and the odds were good that his readers would, sadly, be overcome by one temptation or another.  Fortunately, if and when that unfortunate thing happens, “we have an advocate.”  The Greek word is paracleton, referring to “one called in to help.”

Here, in John’s letter, the “one called in to help” is Jesus.  He is the “propitiation” or “expiation” for our sins.  The idea behind the “propitiation” interpretation is that of “placating or pacifying one who has been wronged.”  But it means even more than that.  God may have been wronged by our sins, but through the work of Jesus, we have been reconciled to God.  Like the returning prodigal, Jesus made it possible for us to come back to God.

As to the other interpretation, “expiation,” it means “removal” or “forgiveness.”  It is through the work of Jesus that ours sins have been removed from our person.

Two different interpretations of a single Greek word shows how deep and profound the work of Jesus was on man’s behalf.  As to whether “propitiation” or “expiation” was intended, that debate should be left up to people smarter than we.  Perhaps both are correct; both interpretations are needed to give us an adequate understanding of what Jesus did on the Cross.  His work is big enough to deal with those Christians who stumble along the way and need a helping hand from above, but also it deals with “the sins of the whole world.”  Anybody can know Jesus and be allowed into the fellowship of the saints.


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