Posts Tagged 'Truths for Christian Living'

TRUTHS FOR CHRISTIAN LIVING, PART 3

The apostle John, writing.

THIS YOU CAN KNOW!

1 John 4:1—21

The recipients of this letter were members of a church in controversy. The trouble-makers who John was dealing with were not worldly pagans, but people who claimed to be Christians. These false teachers were smart and clever; they cloaked their unbiblical teachings in such a way as to lead some believers astray and plant the seeds of doubt in others.

1. Know what is true, 1 John 4:1—6

Without naming it as such, John is about to teach his readers about one of the gifts of the Spirit given to all born again people: the discerning of spirits. Here is how John begins teachings about this spiritual gift:

Dear friends,do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1John4:1)

An interesting point in this verse is John’s use of the word “spirit.” It comes from a Greek word that can mean “wind” or “spirit.” It is the same word of the Holy Spirit. But John’s teachings in this passage are really a profound insight into the spirit-world. Behind every human teacher, false or genuine, is a superhuman force—either the Holy Spirit or an evil spirit, and behind ever spirit is its head—either God or Satan.

a. Test the spirits, verse 1-3

It is the responsibility of individual believers to determine whether or not the person to whom he is listening is teaching something from God or Satan. The Holy Spirit dwells in every true believer, but another spirit lives in the false teachers and John gives two pieces of advice:

  • Do not believe every spirit. Common sense tells us that we are unable to actually see a spirit, but we can certainly hear and understand its teachings. Just because a Bible teacher looks good and uses the right words, that doesn’t mean what he is teaching is from God. This is the first part of the discernment process: listen carefully to the teacher and his teaching; don’t blindly accept it. All teachings must be verified in light of the Word of God (see 1 Thessalonians 2:4 and 5:21).

  • Many false prophets have gone out into the world. False teachers have made the world their classroom; they are literally all over the place, insidiously making themselves a part of churches and denominations. Their goal is to be heard by Christians and to lead as many of them astray as they can.

But Christians don’t have to be gullible; there is a test to determine the origination of the teaching and the teacher.

Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. (verses 2b, 3a)

The test involves a positive confession that hinges on the doctrine of the Incarnation: Jesus Christ came in the flesh. The false teachers of John’s day taught a corrupt version of the Incarnation, denying the lynch pin teaching of the Gospel that the Son of God became the Son of man.

The second part of this test is a negative confession; actively teaching something that is completely contrary to the revealed Word of God that teaches the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Liberal theology involves both of these points. Liberal theologians never accept on faith orthodox Biblical doctrines that Jesus Christ was, is, and will always be the Son of God; that He came from Heaven, assumed the flesh of man in order to save His people; that Herose bodily from the dead, ascended to heaven and that at an appointed time, that same Jesus will return as He left.  Liberal theologians will always seek to rationalize the teachings of Scripture by downplaying the supernatural elements.

b. Live as overcomers, verses 4—6

John’s emphasis shifts now from the content of the false teacher’s message to the character of his readers.

What about God’s people? Positively there are two things to note. First, even if they don’t feel like it, they have already overcome the false prophets. No matter how many false teachers there are or how smart they appear, Christians have overcome them. Second, believers are from God, false teachers are not. We therefore have Him dwelling in us in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Another important point often overlooked in this group of verses teaches us something about the true message of God and His messengers:

We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (verse 6)

Whoever knows God listens to the real Word being proclaimed from real messengers. Those who don’t know God are not interested in hearing any genuine teaching. This makes common sense. Christians love to hear God’s Word being taught because that Word carries with it a divine authority. But the world doesn’t want to be under God’s authority, therefore it will always prefer false teaching to the real thing.

Part of having godly character is to live as an overcomer; as one who recognizes false teaching and avoids it.  This victory over false teaching and false teachers has nothing to do with our abilities,but withthe one who is in us.”  This One, is of course, the Holy Spirit.  No matter what spirit is opposing us,the Holy Spirit within us will enable us to live as overcomers.

2. Know God through love, 1 John 4:7—14

If the first group of verses in chapter 4 represents John’s teaching on the gift of discernment, then this next group of verses illustrates just one of the results of having the gifts of the Spirit operating in your life: love for the body of Christ. This section of John’s letter is perhaps the best loved part of any of John’s writings. It is the definitive statement about agape love. It is, also, very difficult to follow.

a. Love starts with God, verses 7—11

Verse 7 marks either an abrupt end to a discussion of false teachers or an abrupt beginning of a new teaching. Actually, it’s a continuation of the idea that genuine Christians are markedly different from the imitation Christians called false teachers. Unlike them, true believers love one another. This may be a fruit of the Holy Spirit, but it is our responsibility.

This love we are to have for members of the body of Christ is agape love; this kind of love does not depend on the quality of its object. If we have fellowship with God, if we are born of God, if we walk in the light, we will love others becauselove is of God.

Love, then, is another test of a person’s relationship with God. John does NOT say that everyone who is born of God manifests love, but rather he says this:

Every one who loves has been born of God and knows God. (verse7b)

But this is not a sentimental or emotional love John is referring to. There is a distinction betweennatural loveandChristian love.”  Natural love, the love a man has for a women or parents for children, comes from within the person himself, but it is conditioned by some quality in the other person. But agape love has nothing to do with anything in the other person. Agape love is the kind of love God has for human beings. His love for us is not a response to our love. The response is ours. This is the kind of love we are to have for others, particularly for members of the Body of Christ, but not just for them, for all people.

b.God’s Spirit lives in believers, verses1216

Verse 12 seems like a statement out of place, but it might have reference to the false teachers who claimed to have supernatural visions of God. John’s response to their grandiose claims is: No one has ever seen God. This is John’s way of saying something Paul said to the Corinthians:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

A false teacher can make all kinds of big claims, but if they don’t have God’s love in them, God is not in them. Three times in this paragraph John writes about the indwelling of God in the true believer—see verses 13, 15, and 16. Each time, he cites an evidence of this indwelling. Here is another test to see if the Holy Spirit is in a person:

  • The evidence:...he has given us of his Spirit.(verse13). How is this an evidence?  While we can’t see the Spirit, we can see His fruit. The following two pieces of evidence build on this.

  • The evidence: If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God… (verse15) Any body can claim to believe in God, but faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God is evidence that a person is a true believer.

  • The evidence: Whoever lives in love.. . (verse16) The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is really the indwelling of love.  John Stott comments: The natural man can neither believe nor love.  In his fallen and unredeemed state he is both blind and selfish. It is only by the grace of the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth and whose first- fruit is love, that man ever comes to believe in Christ and to love others.

3. Know you abide in God, 1 John 4:15—21

a. Confident in the love of God, verses 15—18

The people Jesus saves are the the people who acknowledge the divine sonship of Jesus Christ. Those who make the confession have the God dwelling in them. Of course, that confession is not enough. The phrase, “Jesus is the Son of God” should not be viewed as a mere confessional statement. Knowing and believing in the divinity of Jesus Christ means having complete faith and confidence in Him and in God’s love.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. (verse16)

This verse teaches us something of the nature of saving faith. It involves the intellect: knowing and relying go together. The growth of knowledge results in the growth of faith and they feed off of each other. When it comes to faith, ignorance is not bliss. One of the reasons why so many believers live in disappointment, often feeling neglected by God and being disappointed in God, is because their knowledge of God and how God works is so lacking. These kind of believers have expectations of God not based in His reality.

However, the more we learn about God in His Word, the more we understand His ways, the more our faith and confidence in Him grows because we have realistic expectations of God and we pray prayers that get answered because we pray according to His will.

John’s point is that no believer should ever live in fear because God is dwelling in them. God is love, and perfect love pushes away all fear.

b. Divinely enabled to love, verses 19—21

We love because he first loved us.(verse19)

This is an odd sentence because it is incomplete. We love what or whom? What was on John’s mind when he wrote the words “we love?” Do we love God? Or do we love each other? Perhaps John had both options in mind. No human being can claim that his love for God existed before God’s love for Him! And at the same time, no human being can claim to love everybody on his own! The fact is, our love for God and our love for all people is a copy of God’s love for us. He is the very nature of love and we follow His example.

And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (verse21)

John ends his discussion on love by summarizing the law which his readers knew so well. Jesus also brought together the first and greatest commandment (Deuteronomy 6:5) and the second commandment (Leviticus 19:18). Throughout the New Testament, the notion of loving one’s neighbor is stressed. Why is that? We are called to love those around us because to varying degrees they bear the image of God and God has commanded us to love them. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are able to do just that.

I. Howard Marshall wrote:

The more we realize how much God loved us, the more we shall realize our obligation to love Him in return. It is therefore good for us to constantly renew our knowledge of God’s love as we read of it in the Bible, as we hear it proclaimed in the worship of the church, and as we consider the ways in which our whole life has been molded by experiences of God’s love and care for us.

God’s great love for us allows us to love others the way He loves them. The one who abides in God will obey His commands, and the two greatest commands are to love God and to love others. The two are inseparable.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

TRUTHS FOR CHRISTIAN LIVING, PART 2

Jesus calling some disciples to follow Him.

Living As Christ’s Disciple, 1 John 2:329

Being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ takes work—mental work. The lazy Christian is one who falls for every new teaching no matter how far from Biblical truth it is. Those of us who been involved in church ministry recognize this to be a big problem. How many of us have wondered, “Why is it easier to believe this or that false teaching but not the truth?” But as prevalent a problem as this may be, it’s not a new one. It’s as old as the church.

The apostle John gives us some guidelines for how to live faithfully as Christ’s disciple. More than guidelines, these are like tests to see if you possess eternal life. Mixed in with these tests, John alludes to the false teachings his readers were flirting with. The tests are moral, social, and doctrinal in nature, which involve the whole person and their behavior, beliefs, and attitudes.

1. Obey Christ’s commands, 1 John 2:311

a. Knowing God, vs. 36

We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says,I know him,but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, Gods love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

The first test is a simple one, given in verse 3. Two things are made clear: we can know Jesus and we can know that we know Him. The popular heresy of John’s day taught that only a select few special people could know God through special knowledge. But John indicates that we can know God and know that we know.

While the Gnostic false teaching that John was confronting taught about “knowing” God, for the Christian, “knowing” God involves more than an intellectual understanding of spiritual things. For us, knowledge of God is inseparable from the experience of righteous living. In other words, a person may run around all day claiming to know God, but if their lives don’t measure up to God’s teaching about righteousness, they’re either a liar or delusional.

So the first test is the test of conduct. This doesn’t mean that everybody who appears to be living a righteous life is a Christian. Many people live according to Biblical principles simply because those principles lead to a good quality of life. Jesus understood this well:

Not everyone who says to me,Lord, Lord,will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)

What John is getting at is that our greatest desire should be set upon the moral teachings of the Gospel and living them as best we can. Keeping the teachings of Scripture—God’s commands—is the same as walking in the light.

b. Loving others, vs. 711

Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. (vs. 10, 11)

John had just taught that moral obedience is a test of a relationship with God. Here is another test; the social test—a loving attitude. The Gnostics were a cold, arrogant, exclusive, unloving, and legalistic people. Christians, on the other hand, should be none of those things. No wonder John gave this test to his readers!

The command for believers to “love one another” is both an old and a new command. This command is a very old one, having been given from “the beginning.” We wonder, though, what John meant by that: the beginning of what? The beginning of time? Or since the giving of the Mosaic Law? Or since the founding of the Church?

The first two theories have merit, but it seem likely John has in mind since the beginning of the Church. Jesus taught His followers to love each other, which was really a fresh teaching of the Law of Moses. This command, then, though old, is not obsolete or worn out, just ancient, but absolutely essential for living. The command to love each other should never be forgotten, but should always be fresh and new in the sense that we commit ourselves to it often. It’s too easy for our Christian love to become formal and duty-bound. Blind obedience should never replace spontaneous love. When that happens, the command to “love one another” becomes as worn out as a sock with a hole in the heel. Indeed, obedience must never become a substitute for love, just an evidence of it.

Verses 7 to 11 describe a person in the church who is, hopefully, in the minority! The word “hates” in verses 9 and 11 is written in the present tense, suggesting a continuous way of life. A person cannot, at the same time, live in hate and walk in the light. It’s an impossibility.

When we “love our brother,” two things happen. First, we are “living in the light.” That is, we are living in the sphere of God’s light, which shines on us. We are true believers.

Second, when we “love our brother,” there is “nothing in us to make him stumble.” The sense of that phrase is literally, “there is no stumbling block in us.” When we are walking in His light, we have nothing in our lives to stumble over or anything in us to cause others to stumble.

2. Don’t love the world, 1 John 2:12—17

a. Truth for all ages, vs. 12—15

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (vs. 15)

John has some words of encouragement for his readers. This is the overriding admonition for believers of all ages and maturity. John groups his readers into “children,” “fathers,” and “young men.” Since women are not mentioned we may assume women are perfect (I write that as a husband of one).

“Dear children” (verse 12) is John’s favorite term of endearment for all congregations as a whole. So to all believers, of all ages and standings, this assurance is given: “Your sins have been forgiven.” And what an assurance that is! Everything begins with forgiveness. Once confessed, our sins may be forgiven and we are then able to enter into fellowship with both God and the Body of Christ.

“Fathers” refers to the senior members of the congregation, those who had some authority within the church. These would be mature believers, both in years and faith.

“Young men” who are “strong” adds a new dimension of thought concerning believers. These have “overcome,” suggesting those who have experienced victory in Christ. This ought to be state of all believers, who are ever in conflict with evil, yet always victorious because Christ has overcome death, hell, and the grave. The Psalmist has a good piece of advice for this group:

How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. (Psalm 119:9)

In verse 13 there is kind of play on words not apparent in the English. Back in verse 12, the Greek for “children” is teknia. But here it is paidia, emphasizing not age but a relationship—a subordinate relationship of one who needs to sit under authority and instruction. Here is the position all believers should strive for:

I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. (vs. 13b)

What John is saying is this: his readers have to know God personally because they sat under the teachings and instruction of godly men.

All members of the church, then, from the oldest to the youngest, both in the faith and in chronology of years, must not love the world or live as worldly people. It’s a bit ironic that the apostle of love, who writes all about how we ought love, gives a stern piece of advice NOT to love something: the world. As much as we ought to love the Body of Christ, we ought to NOT love the world outside of that Body.

b. Flesh, eyes, and the pride of life, vs. 16, 17

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.

John’s mood seems to swing from that of an old man giving words of assurance to a stern old man giving a serious warning. The tense of these verses is not the perfect but the present imperative: he is giving a command! The command is back in verse 15: Do NOT love the world. What love for the world or worldliness involves is now spelled out for us: (1) the cravings of the sinful men; (2) the lust of his eyes; and (3) the boasting of what he has and does.

Believers should not love the world because the world is temporary and is passing away. What John is saying here quite startling, actually. “Pass away” is the same verb in the same tense (present) as was used back in verse 8 to describe the present downfall of darkness. Here, the “darkness” is “the world,” and again John describes it as even now passing away. The chilling assumption is that when the world passes, those who are a part of it will pass as well.

3. Abide in Christ, 1 John 2:18—29

This is the last of John’s “tests,” the doctrine test—the necessity to believe right. Here John has returned the purpose of his letter—to combat false teaching and false teachers by giving his readers solid teachings.

John indicates in verse 18 that he and his readers were living in, literally, “the last hour.” The early church was very conscious that Christ could return at any moment, and that’s why so many of the New Testament’s admonitions about holiness and purity of life are viewed in that context. The thought being, live right and believe right because Christ could return in the next moment. Getting caught with one’s hand in the proverbial cookie jar is powerful motivation to live God-pleasing lives!

a. Antichrists and the anointing, vs. 18—21

Like John and his friends, we too are living in the “last hour.” It’s a long hour, but the dangers of his day are the dangers of ours. False teachers—antichrists—are all over the place, spewing their bad teachings and leading many ignorant believers astray. In John’s day, the identity of the antichrists he was concerned about is clear: they seemed to be one-time members of the church!

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us (vs. 19)

They masqueraded as believers but revealed their true colors when they left—went out from—the company of true believers, to strike out on their own, preaching their own gospel.

We learn something about two important doctrines of the Church here. First, we get an inkling of what “the perseverance of the saints” involves. Only those who remain absolutely faithful to Christ until the end are truly saved. Endurance saves no one, but it is a characteristic of one who is saved. And second, we see the doctrine of “the true church,” or what the true church looks like. Only those who are true to Christ are members of the Church and only He knows what that is.

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. (vs. 20, 21)

What assurance for true believers! We who persevere in the faith have two powerful things going for us: (1) We “have an anointing from the Holy One.” The “Holy One” could refer to either Christ or God, but the anointing definitely refers to the Holy Spirit. The true believer is anointed just like Christ was: by the Holy Spirit. In this sense, we are like Him. The “but” suggests that the false teachers didn’t have this anointing at all. They were running around claiming to be like Christ, yet they were empty. Meanwhile, those who remained true to Him are like Him in the sense that the same anointing fills them as filled Christ. (2) John’s readers “know the truth.” This is an assurance every single believer has because it doesn’t depend on a seminary education:

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (vs. 27)

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17) and He becomes our teacher. It’s easy to be intimidated by teachers, and especially false teachers, who use big words and wordy arguments, but it was important to John that his readers understand that they don’t need to feel this way because they have real knowledge of God, taught to them by the Holy Spirit Himself. This same Spirit also helps believers distinguish between true teaching and error.

b. The Christ, vs. 22, 23

Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

The rhetorical question provides another test. One who denies that Jesus is the Christ—the false teachers—is an antichrist. To deny Christ is to deny the Father. Without getting in to an in depth teaching on Gnosticism, the modern application is obvious. Many people claim to “believe in God,” yet have no relationship whatsoever with Jesus Christ or even fail to recognize His divinity. Such people are not part of the Body of Christ.

c. Safeguards against heresy, vs. 24—29

See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. (vs. 24)

Unlike the false teachers who gave up on the true Gospel, John urges his readers not to. If a believer clings to the true teachings of Scriptures, they may protect themselves from the trap of the false teachers. Paul wrote what about a time when people wouldn’t be following John’s advice:

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (1 Timothy 4:3, 4)

It takes work to remain faithful to the teachings of Scripture; false teachings always appeal to the flesh and the sinful nature, even while they pretend to be spiritual.

Verse 27 gives us the reason why John wrote the things he did:

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.

But even he recognized that no matter how much he wrote and taught them about the truth, there was One who could do more than he ever could:

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

It’s important to listen to the right teaching; to believe the right things. John’s readers had heard the right teachings from him plus they had the Holy Spirit’s ongoing ministry within them. So there are two forms of protection against heresy: the truth of the Word God, read and taught, and the Spirit of Truth. A believer who has both of these protections operating in his life in balance will not fall prey to false teachers. But balance is important. One should not focus on the Scripture at the expense of the the Spirit or vice versa. The best safeguard against false teaching is a knowledge of the truth gained through personal study of the Word, exposure to solid Bible teaching, and Spirit-led illumination.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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