Posts Tagged 'holy living'


John and His Preaching

Luke 3:7—18

What was it that motivated John the Baptist? He was an ordinary man on an extraordinary mission: to get his world ready for the arrival of the Messiah by preparing the hearts of those who would hear his message. John preached the “baptism of repentance.” He was the last of the Old Testament prophets; he walked from the pages of the Old Testament into the opening pages of the New. He is like a bridge connecting the two eras with a single message: the Messiah is coming…get ready!

His message resonated with the people; he had his followers. His message also attracted the ire of the religious elite. How did John respond to these religious people? Let’s take a look…

1. A tough question, verse 7

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

What a way to address your congregation! Just who was John the Baptist directing this question to? The answer is found the parallel passage, Matthew 3:7—9.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.

John was addressing the two main sects in Judaism of his day. Who were the Pharisees? The name or title comes from the Hebrew word parash, meaning “the separated one.” Some scholars believe “pharisee” comes from another Hebrew word, perushim, which has a similar meaning to parash, but the separation is specified: from “unclean people.” In either case, we can see that aim of the Pharisees was to live away from the “normal folk.”

It was during the Babylonian captivity that Pharisaism began. During this period, the Jews had no Temple to worship in, so they became “people of the Book” in their everyday lives. The Law of Moses became central to their lives and the study and teaching of the Law became the obligation of the religious leaders. Later, during the Maccabean years, the Hasidim (the pious ones) struggled to keep Judaism free from the influences of the surrounding pagan religions. And during the time of Herod the Great, it is estimated that there were some 6,000 Pharisees practicing in Israel. The main task was enforcing the Law of Moses, as well as the myriad of other rules and regulations that had been added to the Law since the days of the Captivity.

The Sadducees made up the second largest sect in Judaism. They were made up of aristocratic priests, and while the Pharisees could be found teaching in and around synagogues all over the land, the Sadducees stayed in and maintained control of the Temple in Jerusalem.

It should be noted that the Pharisees, in spite of their obsession with the minute details of the Law, were much more popular with the people than the Saducess. They are mentioned 100 times in the New Testament while the Sadducees only 14 times. After the the final destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the Sadducees vanished from the face of the earth. It is not an exaggeration to say that Judaism exists today because of the efforts of the Pharisees.

These people John the Baptist addressed as “a generation of vipers.” Why he calls them this derogatory term is suggested by the question: “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Or, in other words, as far as John was concerned, the reason they were coming out to be baptized was simply to avoid God’s judgment. They were doing the proper thing but with the wrong motive.

2. An important demand, verse 8

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.

And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. (Matthew 3:9)

The Pharisees and religious people loved the symbols but had no interest in the substance of faith. This really rankled John the Baptist because he understood what real repentance was all about: turning TO God FROM sin. You can’t turn to God and take your sin with you! But that doesn’t stop many believers from doing just that. Certainly they were baptized, but they came up out of the waters of baptism the same person they were when they went in! To John, this was not true repentance. A new life must be manifested by a new way of living. The religious were proud of their connection to Abraham, but to John, father Abraham was incidental to manifest faith in God.

John may have been a simple prophet living out in the desert eating insects, but he could certainly turn a phrase! His retort to their reliance on religious pedigree was terse:  if God wanted to, He could make children of Abraham out of rocks. So, religious pedigree means nothing to God. What God demands is a change in moral character.

3. A testing crisis, verse 9

The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Here is a powerful metaphor suggesting that God’s judgment is ready to take place. At any time, the lumberjack will pick up his axe and swing it. Every tree that is not producing its proper fruit will be chopped down and burned up. This is an idea Jesus would much later take up:

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 7:19)

This is not exactly a message about God’s love! In fact, John the Baptist never preached about the love of God. His message was a dire one: turn or burn. This is the responsibility of every sinner who hears the Gospel message; once they hear it, they must respond to it. If they don’t accept it and repent, they will face sure and certain judgment.

There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. (John 12:48)

Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him. (Luke 8:18)

4. A practical doctrine, verses 10—14

What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

In this paragraph, John the Baptist sounds more like John the Counselor. Even though some specific groups of Jewish people are addressed, John the Counselor gives universal principles that apply to all believers in all generations.

First, Christians should always manifest brotherly love. If a Christian sees a need, he should do what he can to meet that need. Showing brotherly love is a way to allow others, sometimes unbelievers, to experience the love of God.

Second, believers should be honest in their business practices. Tax collectors were in view here, but the point is much broader than just honest taxation. The real point here is that of all the people in the world who engage in business of any kind, the Christian should always be the most honest and above reproach; we ought never to take advantage of another.

Last, John addressed some soldiers. To them, his advice involves being content with your lot and not taking advantage of others in order to improve that lot. It’s all well and good to be ambitious and to take honest advantage of situations and circumstances to have a better life, but a Christian should never be so dissatisfied with their position in life that they would harm others to get ahead.

The fact that all this practical advice is given within the context of a sermon on repentance suggests that cheating others, taking unfair advantage of others, and not caring for others is the natural way of the world. When Christians repent, they must turn from that way of living. However, merely changing ones way of life is not what results in salvation. Repentance that does not lead to a life of faith in Jesus Christ is a repentance that should be repented of!

5. A humbling confession, verse 16a

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.

Some of those listening to John’s preaching were so impressed, they thought he might be the promised Messiah, so John made it clear: he was NOT. While John may have been mighty in righteousness, Jesus is mighty in grace. John may have been an imposing preacher, and he may have preached with authority, but it wasn’t his authority, it was derived from Christ.

When John suggests that he isn’t worthy to untie the Messiah’s shoes simply means that as far as John was concerned, he wasn’t even worthy to be the Messiah’s servant.

6. The most significant statement, verse 16b

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Many religions and cults baptize people in water. In this, Christianity is no different. But, John stressed, when the Messiah finally appears, He will baptize His followers, not in water, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

The first part of this statement indicates in no uncertain terms that there is a baptism in or with the Holy Spirit. But John the Baptist also says “with fire.” Bible scholars are split on what John meant when said this. Some suggest he was referring back to the “fires of judgment” the fruitless trees would be cast in to. In that case, the preacher is talking about the fire of final judgment.

Others teach that the Baptist is referring to the fires of purity, that is, when one is baptized in the Holy Spirit his life is purified; the dross is being burned off.

And others see the “tongues of fire” here. When the early church was baptized in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit was seen as tongues of fire coming to rest of the head of each believer.

Given what we know about the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the life of a believer, it seems likely that John is referring to life-changing work of the Spirit. He really does function like a blow torch sometimes, burning away the trash in our lives. Bishop Ryle’s statement on this issue is worth noting:

We need to be told that forgiveness of sin is not the only thing necessary in salvation. There is another thing yet; and that is the baptizing of our hearts by the Holy Ghost…Let us n ever rest till we know something by the experience of the baptism of the Spirit. The baptism of water is a great privilege. But let us see to it that we also have the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

There are three things the fire of the Holy Spirit does in the believer: (1) It warms; (2) It lights; and (3) It cleanses. This is what the Holy Spirit brings to the heart of every believer He baptizes. To walk in the Spirit is to live in the glowing fire of God’s presence. When we walk in the Spirit, the things of the Spirit become more real than the things of the world; they become more vital than the things of the world. This baptism, the Baptism of the Spirit, does not happen by working for it; you can’t buy it. It is a gift from the Ascended Christ. Have you laid hold of that gift? If not, why not?

7. A final warning, verse 17

His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

The same One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire also carries a winnowing fork in His hand. The same One who unites and enriches with spiritual blessings will also separate and judge. There will come a day when the Messiah will separate true believers from false.

This is really the summation of the sermon, and John’s point is sharp. Anybody can be baptized in water, Pharisee, Sadducee, common man, but that water baptism must be followed by corresponding evidence of the new life. Somebody that claims to be a Christian and has been dunked in the baptismal tank yet does not live in repentance of sin and obedience to God’s Word will face the winnowing fork. This didn’t happen when Jesus came the first time, but it will when He comes back. The Messiah will separate the true from the false believers, the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the weeds.

Being Filled With the *Right* Spirit

A consideration of Ephesians 5:18

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

Most Bible scholars group 4:25—5:2 together and ignore the abrupt chapter break between chapters 4 and 5.  If we were to take a “bird’s eye view” of chapter 4 and part of chapter 5, the overriding theme could be “Living as the Beloved,” and an outline might look something like this (Willard Taylor):

  1. Walking worthy of our calling, 4:1
  2. Walking in a manner different from the Gentiles, 4:17
  3. Walking in love, 5:2
  4. Walking in light, 5:8
  5. Walking in wisdom, 5:17

Mixed Metaphors

In chapter 4, the Church is described as “the new man,” but with chapter 5 the metaphor changes and the Church becomes “the bride.”  The emphasis of chapter 5 is on the future; the Church will be the bride, it is not the bride today.  Indeed, today the Church is supposed to be “the new man” living in the world of sin; today the Church is espoused or engaged to Christ but has not yet been joined to Him.  The Church will become the bride of Christ after the rapture and the “wedding” will take place in Heaven.

For this present time, however, as “the new man,” the Church should be living as the future bride of Christ.  The Church’s position in Christ is that of an engaged virgin.  This is what Paul was saying when he wrote 2 Corinthians 11:2—

I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.

The Church, engaged to Christ now, will be presented to Him “as a pure virgin” one day.  Just like a woman who is engaged to a man doesn’t continue to see old boyfriends or seek out new ones; she lives as committed to her fiancé as though she was already married to him, so the Church, though the wedding is yet to take place, should be living as though she is already married to Christ.

The question becomes:  how do we, the Church of Jesus Christ, re-created as “the new man” and engaged to Christ, live like that?  How do we live like “a pure virgin?” in a world of sin?  Paul gives the answer to us, through the Ephesians.  We are to:

1.  Walk in the light, 5:1—7

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.  Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.  For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore, do not be partners with them.

If we would live like we’re already the bride of Christ, then the very first thing we must seek to do is to be “imitators of God.”  The Greek word is mimetai, from which we get our English word “mimic,” and that gives us a good idea of how we ought to be living.  This is a staggering thought:  Paul would not tell us to “be” or “become” mimics of God unless it were possible, and a key ingredient in God’s character is love.  In keeping with His character, God acts lovingly toward men.  Paul explores this thought in Romans 5:8—

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Our lives as Christians should be a mirror reflection of that kind of love; the kind of love that is demonstrated, not merely talked about.  The love of God is first and foremost practical; it is seen on full display in how He treats both His children and sinful man.  The love that Christians should possess should likewise be practical and on full display.

The kind of love Paul is describing in this group of verses is agape love, a pure and selfless and self-giving love that looks out for the well-being of others.  Agape is God’s love, and God gives that love to His children and He enables them to show it to others.

Showing agape love is as simple as demonstrating the opposite of worldly love, which is really a perversion of agape love.  Paul lists some basic things to be avoided if agape love is to be manifested in our lives:

  • Not even a hint of sexual immorality should be seen in our lives.  The Greek word used here is porneia, from which comes our word “pornography.”  It was tolerated in the pagan societies of Paul’s day as it is in ours, and though it is all around us, we are to have nothing to do with it.
  • Not a hint of any kind of impurity should be seen in our lives.  Impurity characterizes our society today, with its impure images, words, melodies, and attitudes. 
  • Not a hint of greed should be seen in our lives.  The Greek is a powerful word, pleonexia, and means an overriding desire for more and more.  It is a self-centered way of living that takes in the previous two points and goes even further.
  • Not a hint of obscenity, foolish talk, or course joking should be seen in our lives.  These three words are significant because they occur only here in the New Testament.  Previously, Paul warned against “unwholesome talk” in 4:29 because it has the potential to harm those who hear it.  Now he goes even further by suggesting that wrong speech is unseeming for the Christian because it takes the place of wholesome speech, like praise for God.  “Obscenity” is closely linked to the notion of “filthy language” and “foolish talk” comes from the Greek morologia, reminiscent of our word “moronic,” and suggests “stupid” or “silly chatter.”  “Course joking” comes from the Greek eutrapelia, and means literally, “clever repartee.”  That in and of itself is not a bad thing, but when combined with the other two words, is suggests speech that is laced with double entendre.  This kind of talk is below the supposed stature of the believer, and for him to engage in it is lower his standard of behavior and bring disrepute on Christ, the one to whom he is engaged.

There are those in the Church in Paul’s day and today who say that living up to that kind of standard is impossible and may even infringe on our freedom in Christ.  To the Ephesians, and to us, Paul says in verse 7—

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.

2.  Walking in the light, 5:8—14

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, O sleeper,

rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”

Here, Paul reminds his readers of their former lives before they knew  Christ.  These people were not just living in darkness, they were darkness! But now that the light of Christ has come, and they too are the light.  This is another one of those staggering statements that our minds need a moment to absorb.  Believers are “the light.”  Believers are light by virtue of their association with Jesus Christ, who is the “light of the world.”  At our conversion, we become like Christ, lights in a dark world.

John Calvin once said, “Apart for Christ, Satan occupies everything.”  This being the case, Christians have an obligation to live as though they are “at home in the light” (Barclay).   How are we to live like this?  Once again, Paul has a list, beginning with three qualities every believer should manifest:

  • Goodness.  Coming from the Greek agathosyne, it means to possess a generous spirit while living a life of moral excellence.
  • Righteousness.  This means literally, “giving everyone their due” (Skevington Wood).  We might say it means putting the needs of others ahead of our own and making sure others are looked after in a fair and balanced way.
  • Truth.  From the Greek word aletheia, this means being not only honest but genuine.  “Truth” is not only to be reflected in our words, but our actions as well.  There can be no ambiguity in any area of the believer’s life.

Furthermore, Paul goes on to admonish the Ephesians, and us, not to have anything to do with “the fruitless deeds of darkness.”  Instead, we are to “expose them.”  Notice a couple of salient points here.  First, it is the dark deeds that are to be avoided, not those committing them.  Christ was not afraid to go where the sinners where, and neither should His followers, but in going to where the sinners are, we are admonished not to get involved in their dark deeds.  Indeed, our presence around them will serve to expose their dark deeds just as turning on the light in dark room exposes the things in that room.  Our quality of being light will expose their quality of darkness.  That is some power possessed by the believer!   Exposing dark deeds does not necessarily mean shouting about them, but that the Christian life, properly lived, would bring light, exposing them.  It is, as E. F. Scott remarked, a “silent process.”

Verse 12 is a marvelous piece of advice for we who tend to talk too much.

For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.

What does Paul mean?  Simply this:  The works of darkness must be exposed or “reproved” because they are sinful; so sinful they shouldn’t even be spoken of.  They are done in private and they should be exposed in private.  Some sins may be so abominable that to even talk about them would be to promote them.  The danger is that to continually discuss dark deeds, even if it is “preaching against them,” is that they will make some believers curious.  What has been done in the dark should stay in the dark, once it has been exposed.

3.  Walking in wisdom, 5:15—21

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

As believers, we are to be “careful” how we live.  We are to live “wisely.”  The opposite is how Paul phrased it:  we not to live as the “unwise.”  Unwise people live in ignorance of the ways of God; they live in darkness, unable to see and perceive and discern things properly; they can’t tell the difference between right and wrong.   The idea behind “wise” is to walk upright and confident, like those who possess knowledge and light and who are committed to the truth of God.  We live like the “wise” in five ways:

  • We make the most of every opportunity.  This means that we don’t let the frivolous things of this world steal the time we have away from us.  What lies behind Paul’s thought is our service to God.  Christians should not wait for an opportunity to serve God, they should “buy it up” regardless of the cost.
  • We are to understand the will of God.  Not only are Christians to grasp the will of God, if we understand verse 17 properly, not understanding God’s will makes the Christian “foolish!”  The word behind “foolish” is aphron, suggesting “stupid imprudence” and “senseless folly” in action (Skevington Wood).   Understanding what the will of God is is more than just an intellectual ascent to it, it is living according to it.  It means not depending on your own acumen or on the advice of others.  It means testing every thought and idea against God’s will, not the other way around.
  • We are to be filled with the Spirit.  Paul is actually paraphrasing Proverbs 23:30 and warning against the overindulgence of wine.  The abuse of alcohol was far too common in New Testament times.  People used alcohol for all kinds of reasons:  to forget their pain and to achieve happiness, for example.  There are times for joy and happiness, and there are times to be filled hope and anticipation and excitement.  But these times are not to be brought on by alcohol or celebrated by getting drunk.  Far from admonishing against alcohol, Paul is warning against its abuse, not its use.  Getting drunk is not the answer to life’s problems; it is what people living in the darkness do because they don’t know any better.  The joy or uplift that comes from alcohol is not real or lasting.  It’s as phony as everything else the world provides.  It is the devil’s imitation of the real joy that comes from only from God.  The “new man” and the promised bride of Christ has no need for the world has to offer.

The solution to the sinfulness of drunkenness is simply seeking a higher, more last source of joy and happiness.  Instead of getting drunk, the believer is to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

The ancient Greeks often used wine for another purpose:  to commune with the gods and to receive special knowledge from them.  This is the world in which Paul lived and these were the ideas he was fighting.  Abusing wine gets a person nothing worth anything, says Paul, it leads only to actions that are out of character for the Christian.  It will not ease your pain, it will not make you happy and it will not give you any wisdom.  On the other hand, if you want true and lasting happiness, if you want your burdens lifted in a meaningful way, and if you want to commune with the living God, forget the wine and be filled with His Spirit!

Of primary importance is Paul’s use of the word plerousthe, the Greek word for “to be filled.”  It is written in the imperative, which makes it clear that this command is for all Christians, not just those of the Pentecostal persuasion.  It is also written in the present tense, which means being filled with the Holy Spirit is a continual experience, not a once-for-all-time experience.  We could paraphrase Paul by saying, “keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit.”  The verb is also a passive one, which means being filled with the Holy Spirit is not an experience one runs after or makes up or gins up.   Being continually filled with the Holy Spirit should be the normative experience for all Christians; our lives should be lived expecting God to fill us again and again with His Spirit.  There is no indication in verse 15 that there is a “filling with the Spirit” subsequent to conversion.

  • We are to express the joy of the Spirit.  This is the result of being filled with the Spirit.  It will determine our whole demeanor; it will effect how treat our fellow believers.  Speaking to each other in “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” does not necessarily mean Christians should go around singing at each other all the time;  it means that rather than engaging in foolish and unproductive talk, instead of telling dirty jokes and the like, Christians should be ready to encourage each other in a godly way.  We should so familiar with the Word of God that it just rolls off the end of our tongues when it is needed.   Part of expressing the joy of the Spirit is living in an attitude of thanksgiving (verse 20) to Jesus Christ for all He has done for us.
  • We are to submit to one another.  Finally, we get to Paul’s great concern for unity in the Church.  When its members are living according Paul’s dictates, the Church will see true unity.  Realizing that each member of the Body of Christ has had the common experience of having been transported from darkness to light, each member has had the common experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit, and each member has had the common experience of God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness, submission to each other should come naturally.  Our shared experiences in Christ form the basis for this mutual submission.  This is not a cowardly, spineless kind of submission, however.  It is realizing the importance of each member of the Body of Christ.  In the world of darkness, people are abused, forgotten, hurt, and taken advantage of.  In the Church, this should never happen.

True and lasting joy comes from a right relationship with:

  • The world, our former home, and its current occupants;
  • God the father, the One who creates “the new man” in each of us;
  • Jesus Christ, bridegroom of His Church;
  • The Holy Spirit, who fills each of us and makes it possible for us to live up our calling;
  • Each other in the Body of Christ.
(c)  2009 WitzEnd

Letters From an Old Man, 3

That You May Not Sin

1 John 2:1—2

No matter how fundamental it is, this statement still raises eyebrows from Christians who either don’t know the Word or don’t think: There is no one who is sinless except for Jesus. No matter how old that dear blue-haired saint is who has been in the church for a hundred years, she is still a sinner! For those of us who diligently read and study the Bible, who endeavor to put its teachings to work in our lives in a God-pleasing and meaningful way, the tragedy is that we still stumble and sin from time to time.

What is sin according to John? In his theology, the word “sin” includes both the propensity and the act. What that says to me is that when it comes to the sin game, nobody can win! Even when we are standing still, or in traction from head to toe in the hospital, we still have the propensity to sin. So is there any hope? Where is the hope for one who has fallen into sin? What do we do with the believer—maybe the person who sits in front of you every Sunday morning—who has stumbled and fallen into sin? John, the elder statesman of the Church, gives us the answer by pointing to Jesus, the One who is our helper.

1. John the Comforter, 2:1a

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.

The discussion John is about to have is deadly serious, but he starts off using a very strong term of endearment: “dear children.” This term is most often used as an affectionate way to describe the relationship between teacher and student. However, his readers aren’t immature children in terms of their ages. The term, really, is a way for John to show his authority as an apostle in the Church. Also because of his age, for by now he may well have been one of the last of the Twelve alive, he is the one person who is able to relate to young and old alike because he has seen it all.

After establishing his relationship with his readers, John writes an amazing statement in light of his previous statements about the fact that we all sin.

I write this to you so that you will not sin.

If sin is universal, then there must be a universal solution for the problem of sin. Just because sin is inevitable in the life of the believer, that does not mean that it should not be treated as an urgent concern. Many Christians are like the false teachers of John’s day, who were running around saying that sin is no big deal because God is a loving God and if I sin all I have to do is pray and ask for forgiveness. But sin is a big deal since John writes the statement, I write this to you so that you will not sin. Of course forgiveness is available by confession and the blood of Christ, but as a loving pastor, John writes to admonish his readers not to fall into sin. It is interesting that John writes in the singular here, as though he were writing to just one person. A good pastor, John is also good preacher.

(a) Sinlessness

Sin is such an enemy to the Christian that John is trying to show us how not to sin. Sin and obedience are mutually exclusive. John is not indicating that any of his readers are living in sin, because he has already said that they are having fellowship with God. In fact, John is trying to head off a potential problem for he is keenly aware of human weakness and the Devil’s seductive power. Since the hallmark of the Christian life should be the absence of sin, and that should be the goal of each and every Christian, it stands to reason that the Devil has each and every Christian in his sights. The Devil wants you to sin and he will stop at nothing to see that you do. The Devil wants you to come out of the light and back into the darkness. Sin is the one thing that can rob God of your fellowship and rob the body of Christ of your fellowship. Sin is something every believer should take seriously because there is no such thing as a “harmless” or “secret” sin. NO sin is harmless because it prevents you from having fellowship with both God and His Church. So it’s obvious when a fellow believer is having a sin problem: you never see them in church when they could be here.

The goal and lifelong pursuit of every child of God should be living a life marked by an effort to not sin. And it is a goal that is possible for every single believer to reach! It is attainable because of the very thing John wrote in chapter one of his letter. What are the things that make the goal of living a life marked by not sinning?

  • God’s self-revelation
  • The provision of fellowship with Him and His promise of fellowship with us
  • The promise of forgiveness and cleansing through walking in the light

Those things, says John, are the things that should inspire us and empower us to put forth the effort to stop sinning. The phrase that you will not sin refers to definite acts of sin rather than the habitual state. In other words, John knows his readers are sinners by nature, but they should NOT sin.

(b) A solution

The idea of sin as a power pushing us into performing acts or having attitudes contrary to God’s Word must be dealt with. Realistically, though, when we fail and sin, there must be a remedy so we are able to maintain unbroken fellowship with God; it is that important to Him and that vital for us. Here is the remedy—

But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One (TNIV)

The phrase if anybody does sin refers to an instance where a believer is overtaken by sin, rather than succumbing to their sin nature; it refers to giving into a strong temptation whether by ignorance or because they were deceived into it. Or John could be writing about just careless thinking and lazy living. In any case, when we willfully decide to commit a sin, forgiveness and restoration is possible through the efforts of one Person.

we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One

The word “advocate” is a powerful word taken from the Greek paracleton. This noun is used of Jesus Christ only by John. In his gospel, John speaks of the Holy Spirit as “another comforter,” also paracleton. A paraclete is one who is sent for, one who comes to help and to comfort, one who intercedes. It’s a common Green word to describe somebody who has come to help. As John uses the word here, paracleton has the idea of One who stands before God representing someone else, who then pleads their case before God.

The answer to lapsing into sin is not to lie about it or try to justify it or to cover it up. The answer is in confessing what you did to your Paralete, who then goes to the Father on your behalf and secures your forgiveness. That’s why we say that forgiveness from sins comes through Jesus Christ. Only He is able to do that; for in His human nature, Jesus is:

  • Our brother according to Hebrews 2:11
  • Acquainted with our weaknesses according to Hebrews 4:15
  • Our savior according to Hebrews 7:25

And according to John, He is our advocate and our intercessor. He is also God’s only Son, God’s Messiah, the Christ, who alone has fulfilled every single demand of the law for us and has been given the fitting title Righteous One. This is the sinless Lawyer who represents you in God’s court. So what are you worried about?

2. John the counselor, 2:2

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Our advocate does not maintain our innocence, but confesses our guilt before God and gains our forgiveness. In this verse, John has two lines of thoughts: Jesus’ sacrifice and the extent of that sacrifice.

(a) Jesus’ sacrifice

The first phrase is difficult to translate because of John’s use of the Greek word hilaskomai, which is normally translated “propitiation” or “expiation.” Here is how confused translators are over John’s use of this word:

  • NIV, TNIV: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins
  • KJV, RV, ASV, NASB: He is the propitiation for our sins
  • RSV: He is the expiation for our sins.
  • NEB: He is Himself the remedy for the defilement of our sins.

What exactly is John trying to teach us? Each translation of hilaskomai carries a nuance of the word:

  • “propitiate” means to appease.
  • “expiate” means to remove the guilt incurred in an offense
  • “atone” means to pay for an offense

In a sense, all three meanings more or less apply to Christ’s work on our behalf, yet all three meanings in themselves fall short.

John expressed the exact same thought in 1 John 4:10—

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Again, the same word, hilaskomai, is behind “atoning sacrifice.” Was Jesus simply a way to placate the anger of God (propitiate)? By His actions, did Jesus simply take away our guilt (expiate)? On the Cross, did God simply extract payment for our offenses from His Son’s blood? Thoughts like these seem to make God very cold and mechanical in His dealings with both His only Son and man.

According to John, it was God who loved a sinful world first; and He showed that love by giving His Son to cover its sin and remove its guilt. That resulted in the death of His Son on the Cross, but also made His fellowship with us possible. It is God who desired that fellowship first and He made a way to make it possible for Him to have fellowship with us.

That does not describe a cold and mechanical God; it describes a God who so desperately wanted to have fellowship with the human beings He lovingly created in His image that He was willing to give His Son’s life to make that possible. God sent His Son into the world because of His great love for the world and for sinful man, not because of anger or hatred.

(b) The extend of His sacrifice

Christ’s work of redemption—His atoning sacrifice—His becoming a man like us and dying on the Cross—reconciled prodigal sinners to Father waiting with open arms. But this work is provisional:

for the sins of the whole world

What a glorious thought. God’s remedy for sin is available to the whole world, not just a select few. But sadly, many people will never avail themselves of this cure. Christ’s work is unlimited in its scope, but provisional in its application, for God will not force His gift of redemption on anybody who doesn’t want it. All of mankind has been reconciled to God in Christ, but individuals must experience their reconciliation by repentance and a willingness to “walk in the light.”

3. Lingering thoughts

I find these two verses very deep and full of meaning on several levels, but two of them speak loudly to me. As John presents God to us, he presents a responsible God, a loving heavenly Father, who has made full provision for the restoration of lost humanity, His most noble creation. When Adam and Eve rebelled and fell into sin, taking all of humanity with them, God did not relinquish responsibility. Despite man’s sinful condition, God still treats man as the noble creature He first created. God was able to provide salvation through Jesus Christ, yet at the same time He was able to respect man’s freedom of choice and personal responsibility.

This shows us the greatness of God, but it also shows us something about man, who despite being mired in sin and living in a ruined state, having allowed sin to dominate his life, is still able differentiate himself from the animal kingdom and rise above the level of a eyeless, slimy grub. The spark of God still resides in even the vilest of sinners, and even the vilest of sinners was made to live in an upright position, physically and intellectually. When it comes to salvation, God expects man to act like the noble creature he is; He expects man to stand up and accept responsibility for his sinful state; choose to accept the gift of salvation being offered to him; then to deliberately choose to walk in the light and eschew the darkness for the rest of his days on earth.

Man’s hope for salvation rests squarely in the finished and complete work of Jesus Christ on Calvary, but of necessity it also rests on man’s God-given and God-enabled ability to choose that which Christ has wrought on the Cross.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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